I took a deep dive recently into the local and national movements that are taking place around the employer and domestic worker relationship and I can say, there are some exciting changes afoot. Forays include attending a forum at Casa Latina in Seattle for the Working Washington’s Bill of Rights agenda and attending a live webinar from Hand in Hand, an organization out of New York promoting nationwide domestic workers rights.
Director of Hand in Hand Ilana Berger succinctly stated that “there is a deep sense of interdependence between families and the domestic workers who help them because quite simply … we need each other.”
“My Home is Someone’s Workplace” was the title of the webinar, with attendees nationwide. The overarching goal is to create solidarity and support for a group of workers often overlooked, with Ms. Berger providing the sinister history behind this marginalization. It is apparently rooted in slavery. Take a moment to let that sink in.
Dating back to the 1930’s when the labor force was wholly unregulated, groups of workers (predominantly male) began to mobilize into unions and demand basic employer rights. The domestic workers (predominantly female, immigrants, or people of color) were left out of these protections. Nearly a century on, the legacy remains as child care minders and housekeepers work in a shadow industry that has remained almost completely unregulated. Until now.
Some may remember Meryl Streep recently attending the Oscar’s with her plus one, the Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Ai-Jen Poo. The genius move was intended to bring attention to our industry, one Ai-Jen Poo casts as the “wild, wild west of industries with so few regulations.”
Ms. Berger explained that the context of this work is very confusing, even for those employers who “really want to do the right thing.” She added that “although none of us created the system, we all have agency in trying to improve and make it more just.”
Hand in Hand began by establishing the Fair Care Pledge, pillars to be used as guidelines for home employers. They begin with Fair Pay, Clear Expectations, and Paid Time Off. They iterated that although the in-home environment begets a “family or friend” type relationship with a nanny, sitter, housekeeper, or caregiver – the reality is that “it is a labor relationship” and “essential that one pay close attention to obligations” related to the nature of this relationship. “Its not like someone shows at your door with an HR booklet” added one of the presenters.
Paying a living wage, paying overtime, and paying reliably were added to the list of tenets. You can find Guiding Principles around “living wages” and calculate the cost-of-living geographically by using the Family Budget Calculator from the Economic Policy Institute here: https://www.epi.org/resources/budget/.
The thinktank over at National Domestic Workers Alliance has conceptualized the model of portable benefits through the launch of myalia.org; designed to provide gig economy workers such as housekeepers with access to paid sick leave, disability insurance, accident/illness insurance, and more.
In closing, a huge emphasis was placed on fair treatment of household employees. One of the tips they gave was literally “remember to say hello and regularly communicate with respect”. Now, couldn’t we all use this advice in the workplace?
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