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Domestic Workers Push for Bill of Rights
June 12th, 2009

Taking care of children and the elderly: Check.

A bill of rights: left blank.

Early this morning, dozens of domestic workers and their allies set up shop outside City Hall, participating in a 24-hour vigil to lobby for a bill that would provide basic labor protections for domestic workers in New York.

Domestic laborers said that the 24-hour vigil is symbolic of their working situation. “We work in the employers’ house around the clock, 24 hours,” said Joycelynn Gill-Campbell, a former nanny from Barbados who is now a full-time organizer with Domestic Workers United, a grassroots group.

If passed, the domestic workers’ bill of rights would be the first bill to address their exclusion from federal and state labor laws. Though its prospects, according to some legislators, looked good at one point, it too could become a casualty of the Senate stalemate.

“I know what it is to be treated less than a human being and to be exploited and abused,” Gill-Campbell said. “We have to create history. The bill of rights is about correcting all the injustices that have been done.”

Another member of Domestic Workers United, Patricia Francois from Trinidad, spoke of the abuse she endured from her employer in Manhattan. “After I was beaten physically and verbally, I had to [quit],” she said.

Francois added that if “we don’t go to work, Wall Street doesn’t go to work.”

The legislation, which has been passed by the labor committees in the Senate and the Assembly, includes provisions to ensure that domestic workers would get overtime pay, one day a week off, advance notice of termination and severance pay. It also includes an annual cost of living increase and paid holidays and personal days.

The Senate Codes Committee has approved the bill as well, and it is waiting passage in the Assembly Codes Committee.

But the ongoing debacle in Albany has imperiled the bill.

“The Democratic caucus is serious about this legislation, and we are serious about protecting our workers,” said Ana Tinsley, a spokesperson for Sen. Diane Savino, the main sponsor of the legislation in the Senate. But, “for the time-being, there is a Senate standstill on pretty much everything.”

When asked whether she was confident that the bill would get taken up before the legislative session expires, Tinsley said, “I couldn’t give you a firm yes or no.”

Still, some legislators appear to be confident in the bill’s ultimate passage. Ben Rosen, the communications director for Assemblyman Keith Wright, said that “the prospects are good” for the legislation’s approval before the legislative session expires. Wright is the main sponsor for the bill in the Assembly.

Supporters of the legislation say that the political support is there from both sides of the aisle, like from Republican Sen. Frank Padavan, although some conservatives oppose it. E.J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute told the New York Times in 2007 that “any attempt like this to mandate working conditions for a large number of entry-level workers can only have one result: fewer such jobs for people who need them.”

Yesterday, Gov. David Paterson told WNYC that “these workers deserve equal rights and if they’re able to pass the bill, or if they’re able to ever get the legislature to come back, I will sign it.”

By on June 12, 2009, 5:23 pm
In category: Albany,Civil Rights,Demographics,Eye on Albany,Gotham City,Governing,Immigrants,nextNY | 1 Comment »

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One Response to “Domestic Workers Push for Bill of Rights”

  1. Violet Says:
    June 14th, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Most articles on this subject create the impression that this bill is about “rights” for so-called domestic workers. However, none of these articles acknowledge that child care for low income and working class families could be seriously imperiled by passage of this bill. The bill, if passed, will require any parent who hires a full time babysitter to pay wages and generous benefits that sound nice but which are not affordable for most New Yorkers who are parents. These benefits include pay of $12/hour (to increase to $14/hour in 2010), health insurance that the parent pays for, ten paid personal days off at the expense of the parent, nine paid holidays at the expense of the parent, annual raises at the expense of the parent, five weeks of paid vacation at the expense of the parent, and 21 days of notice of termination plus additional monies as severance pay, again at the expense of the parent. The bill specifically says it is illegal for a sitter to agree to work for less than this, or for the parent to ask the sitter to work for less than this. I guess if you only earn $25,000 a year, they think your children shouldn’t be allowed to be cared for in their own home by a babysitter – even if that sitter is your best friend who is a legal resident of the US and who is doing it to help you out and for extra spending money because her husband provides for all her needs. Are you a working parent who can afford to pay somebody all these benefits? I’m a parent who definitely did NOT earn enough money last year to pay this much in wages and benefits to my sitter. My income so far this year also falls short of being able to meet these requirements. I don’t live in Long Island. I live in the Bronx, as do most of my friends. None of us make enough money to pay out this much in wages and benefits. Most of us use an older relative, longtime neighbor, or trusted family friend to babysit for, say, $300/week while the parents work. We are more comfortable leaving our babies with somebody we’ve known for years, instead of in a center with people that we don’t know. Some of us prefer that our babies have that one-on-one attention instead of having to compete with lots of other children for attention. Some of us CAN’T use group day care because we work 12 hour shifts but the licensed day care centers around us are only open 10 or 11 hours a day. If this bill becomes law, it will be illegal for us to use babysitters any more because we are low income or working class, and definitely not wealthy enough to buy somebody else health insurance and pay them $14 an hour. Do those people who wrote those bill seriously think that most residents of the Bronx earn enough to pay a sitter $14 an hour, let alone buy them health insurance? Do they even care? In the Bronx, we have many nursing assistants, livery car drivers, nail salon workers, social workers, teachers, grocery store or pharmacy cashiers, waitstaff, and other professions that pay low or moderate wages. Nobody who makes $10 an hour as a security guard or $25 an hour as an EMT can afford to comply with the requirements of this bill. EMTs work 12 hour shifts, but most licensed day care facilities where I live are open only 9 or 10 hours of the day. That means these workers MUST be able to rely on using a babysitter, because they have to be at work before licensed day care facilities open and they don’t get off until after the centers have closed. Sadly, an effect of this bill becoming a law is that EMTs and other workers unable to use a sitter. EMTs just don’t get paid enough money to pay a babysitter $14 an hour and all the paid time off that the bill requires.

    Perhaps the bill was meant to be revenge for rich people in Long Island who brought immigrants here (sometimes illegally) and then mistreated them. The only reason they got away with it for so long is that the immigrants either didn’t know about existing laws, or were afraid to use them, that would have ended their suffering. I don’t approve of exploiting immigrants, but existing laws are already in place that would end exploitation if immigrants would only take advantage of them. I have a HUGE problem with the fact that these same persons would seek to criminalize hardworking low to moderate people who can afford to pay a babysitter a modest fee but who don’t earn enough money to provide lots of extra perks and benefits.

    I also have a problem with the way the bill could jeopardize the safety of children. If I come home at an unexpected time and find the babysitter is high, smoking, entertaining guests I don’t know about, absent, or doing anything else that is a direct threat to my childrens’ safety, I should be able to get rid of that person IMMEDIATELY. The bill seeks to take away my right to do that. It says I’d have to keep paying this person for another 21 days, and then would have to give additional severance pay of a week’s wages for every year that person babysat for me. It also says the babysitter can go on vacation whenever they wish, whether or not the dates coincide with when I’m on vacation, and I cannot require any sort of compromise on when the sitter takes vacation. That means if I’m supposed to go to work and the sitter gets it into his/her head that they want vacation that day for two weeks, there’s nothing I can do about it. I will probably miss work yet still have to pay the vacationing sitter (and not get paid myself for missed work). If I’m able to find a substitute sitter, I’ll have to pay the sub plus the vacationing sitter – meaning I pay double for child care since the intent of the bill is to give the babysitter 100% of the decision-making regarding when they go on vacation.

    Does this bother any other parents out there? Does anybody else find it unfair that current laws only guarantee most of us minimum wage, yet this group has crafted a bill so that they – and ONLY they (not the rest of us) – are guaranteed double minimum wage plus expensive benefits? If the unfairness of this bothers you at all, read the full text of the bill. You can read it at the assembly’s web site at http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?bn=A01470&sh=t ; it’s bill A01470. Then call, write, or visit your assemblyman/assemblywoman. I have a feeling that many of us have not read the bill. We’ve only read the glowing comments about it, without considering how it will hurt working class and low income families who want and need to be able to use babysitters.

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