Sunday, April 5, 2009

Daily News Giving Rights to Caregivers Without a Voice

Giving Rights to Caregivers Without a Voice
By Albor Ruiz

Sunday, April 5th 2009, 4:00 AM

"I am not speaking only for myself, but for 200,000 people," said Patricia Francois, a nanny who is suing her former employer for allegedly assaulting her.

Two hundred thousand is the number of domestic workers in the New York City area, most of them, like Francois, immigrant women. And all of them without the protection of labor laws.

"What happened to Patricia is an indication of the kind of abuse employers so many times get away with," said Ai-jen Poo, the lead organizer for Domestic Workers United, the largest coalition of nannies, housekeepers and caregivers in the city.

The situation of these women is ironic: While we trust them with our most precious possessions - our children, our elderly parents, our homes - they are among the most exploited and abused of society's laborers.

Francois' case is just one dramatic example.

A nanny who spent 6-1/2 years caring for the young daughter of Matthew Mazer, an affluent Manhattan documentary filmmaker, Francois is suing him for assault and battery as well as an unspecified amount of unpaid overtime.

Francois charges that on Dec. 18, 2008, Mazer punched her in the face after she tried to stop him from yelling at his 13-year-old daughter. She was left with a black eye and blurred vision, she says.

Mazer denied the allegation through his lawyer, Robert Gaulin. "Actually, she attacked my client," Gaulin said. "He never touched her."

Saturday, at a rally outside Mazer's midtown apartment, Francois announced the lawsuit. Together with other workers and DWU members, she called for the passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Keith Wright (D-Harlem) and Sen. Diane Savino (D-S.I.), the bill would offer these workers the same protection and rights others enjoy.

Unfortunately, Francois' allegation is not rare. Other horror stories have made headlines.

One of the most dramatic stories is that of Swarna Vishrantamma, an Indian immigrant who worked as a nanny and housekeeper for a Kuwaiti with diplomatic immunity. For four years, until she managed to escape, she was forced to work 18-hour days, paid a paltry $200 per month and abused physically.

"Because you work in a private house, almost anything goes," said Marilyn Marshall of Brooklyn, a nanny from Trinidad. "They don't think of what you do as real work or of you as a real worker."

Also, abusing domestic workers is easy. They work without the protection of any labor laws - not even the National Labor Relations Act - and without power to negotiate with their employers. That's why passing the Bill of Rights is so urgent.

The legislation has already moved out of both the Assembly and Senate Labor Committees this session and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) has expressed his support.

"We have been waiting for five long years," Poo said. "But I think it will pass this time."

Besides waiting, Poo and DWU have been working very hard. "We have been going to Albany every month," Poo said.

Despite their optimism, hundreds of domestic workers will travel to Albany on April 28 to push for final passage of the bill as part of the April 23-May 1 National Week of Action for domestic workers' rights.

"[Our situation] is very unfair. I feel that we give a lot every day and get very little," said Carla France, an immigrant from St. Vincent who was a nanny for 18 years and now works at DWU. "It's time we are treated the same as other workers."

She could have been talking for every nanny, housekeeper and caregiver in New York City.

Do you think a domestic worker bill of rights should be law in your local municipality?


Anonymous said...

You guys just posted a whole bunch of domestic worker bill of rights. I wish these workers had read your articles. Even when you do not work legally (you are not a citizen) you are still protected by labor laws.

I have had nannies I have known not know that in the past. Lovely women working hard as nannies but unwilling to ask for more money because they are illegal and don't want to "rock the boat." I am talking about mothers who were teachers and professionals in their "home countries" waiting for citizenship.

I am grateful that none were abused, just maybe underpaid.
Of course there should be domestic workers bills of rights in every municipality!!

Tonya, Newborn Specialist and Nanny, Thiensville, Wisconsin

Anonymous said...

I strongly disagree with Tonya’s comments above. ILLEGAL ALIENS should not be allowed the same protections citizens have. Immigrants are welcome and if they are getting a green card or here on a visa they are welcome to citizen protections. But ILLEGAL ALIENS are stealing jobs from hard working American citizen and they should not be allowed the same privileges TAX PAYING citizens do. Leah, Sitter, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Anonymous said...

The comments made above from Leah from New Mexico are ridiculous. The article is discussing abuse and workers rights. Hitting another person is always illegal. It does not matter where you are from. if you are living and working in America no one has the right to punch you! This article is discussing assault. The assault has nothing to do with tax paying versus not tax paying or illegal versus legal. It’s about basic workers rights. No one should be assaulted at work or abused at work no matter what job they work at.

Just a month ago in the March issue of this very newsletter (who posts this blog) domestic workers rights were listed because so many times domestic workers are unaware of their rights. So many accept less than minimum wage, or less than pleasant living conditions because they do not know they are protected by laws.

Domestic worker rights should be part of every town, city, and state, not just New York City.
That should be a basic human right!!!!

Anonymous said...

Of course I hope Domestic Workers United can extend it's work outside of New York City. We do need workers rights laws passed in all municipalities. All nanny agencies should give each and every family a workers bill or rights as should each nanny web site.
Tasha F, Governess, Rye NY