Nannies Get New Benefits In New York

fromWNYC

A one-of-a-kind law guaranteeing nannies overtime and other benefits has just taken effect in New York. It's the first bill specifically aimed at protecting "domestic workers" in the United States. But the new law isn't forcing big changes in the way most families treat their nannies.

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In New York, a new state law has just taken effect that's one of a kind in the U.S. It gives domestic workers basic labor protections that supporters say will help legitimize a workforce of nannies, housecleaners and others who often toil without recognition.

From member station WNYC, Cindy Rodriguez has the story.

CINDY RODRIGUEZ: Riverside Park winds through the tony Upper West Side of Manhattan. And even on a cold fall afternoon, it's easy to spot nannies pushing strollers and carriages down picturesque paths that overlook the Hudson River.

Bernadette Joseph from Trinidad has been a nanny more than 20 years. She says her most recent employers have been fair to her.

Ms. BERNADETTE JOSEPH: I could say for the last 10 years, I've been treated very good. But otherwise, I always have to, like, fight for what I want.

RODRIGUEZ: Joseph says she gets two weeks of paid vacation, five paid sick days and national holidays off. Plus, she's paid on the books and never works more than 40 hours per week. But she says not everyone is so lucky.

Ms. JOSEPH: But some of these girls, they afraid to talk. They afraid they get fired.

RODRIGUEZ: Joseph is getting above and beyond what the new law calls for. Besides guaranteeing one day of rest per week, the law requires three paid days off a year. And, for the first time, domestic workers in New York State are protected from sexual harassment and various kinds of discrimination.

Employers are already supposed to pay time and a half for overtime and pay all employment taxes, including Social Security. Plus, they're supposed to procure disability and workers compensation insurance.

That's not the case for one nanny who did not want her name used out of fear of losing her job. A friend prodded her to speak.

Unidentified Woman: (Through translator) Yeah, it's good. It's just that sometimes I wish the pay was better.

RODRIGUEZ: The woman is undocumented and says she works more than 60 hours a week for roughly $550. She's paid off the books, which is not uncommon, even for domestic workers with legal status. She says she knows she's getting short changed, but it could be worse.

Unidentified Woman: (Through translator) Because just this morning, I came across a nanny at the museum. She's making $400 a week, and she's inside all day doing everything.

RODRIGUEZ: Joan Friedman owns A Choice Nanny, a nanny agency in Manhattan that links nannies and parents. She says the going rate right now is about $750 a week for 50 hours of work. And for some parents, that's a stretch.

Ms. JOAN FRIEDMAN (Owner, A Choice Nanny): We don't see a lot of people who are trying to give the nanny less than what she deserves. I think most of our clients are trying to be pretty fair. But when you have to take that money out of your pocket, thats a lot of money every week for most working couples.

RODRIGUEZ: Friedman says once taxes are factored in, a full-time nanny costs 35 to 40,000 a year, about half a middle class person's salary. And yet it's hard for a for a nanny to survive on that in New York City, especially if she's supporting kids or sending money to loved ones back home, says Ai-Jen Poo, director of National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Ms. AI-JEN POO (Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance): Many employers in this workforce don't even see themselves as employers, don't even remember that somebody else's livelihood is dependent on their paycheck.

Ms. JENNIFER BERNARD: This is JJ Bryan Playground.

RODRIGUEZ: Jennifer Bernard is a confident nanny from the Caribbean who's been active in trying to educate her fellow nannies. She's part of the group Domestic Workers United. On a recent afternoon, Bernard was trying to convince one nanny of her right to overtime.

Ms. BERNARD: Because if you're working in corporate world and there's certain plans set out as an employee, you benefit from it. So why is it as a domestic worker, we don't get that respect and benefit from it, but we now passed the bill?

RODRIGUEZ: The New York State Department of Labor says it will likely use parenting blogs and pediatricians offices to inform parents and others about what the law requires.

Ai-Jen Poo says a similar domestic worker bill will soon be introduced in California.

For NPR News, I'm Cindy Rodriguez in New York.

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