Daily News Article About Labor Rights

Domestic workers push labor rights bill
Daily News
By Patrice O’Shaughnessy

Members of the Domestic Workers Justice Coalition, a group that works to organize several domestic worker unions, held a rally Saturday, March 4th, 2009.

Tuesday, Ana Ontiveros will not make her usual daily trip from the Bronx to her job as a housekeeper in Manhattan. Instead, she’ll take a day off without pay and board a bus to Albany with dozens of other housekeepers, nannies and maids to rally the state Legislature for a domestic workers’ Bill of Rights.

“They expect a lot of people to come to Albany,” said Ontiveros, 36. “The farm workers are coming with us, and students who support us.”

She said she has a good job, cleaning for a family, and sometimes baby-sitting if the nanny isn’t there.

But she doesn’t get sick days or overtime or medical benefits. She works 10 hours a day, for $12.50 an hour.

She has never been physically abused by employers, but she said, “I hear a lot of stories about people abusing workers, or they don’t pay them, or fire them for no reason.”

In 2007, she was part of a group of workers who went to the Long Island courthouse, where a wealthy couple was tried and convicted of beating and enslaving their housemaid, one of the most egregious cases to come to light in this nation.

“That happens,” Ontiveros said. “Sometimes, you think in this country that can’t happen.”

The workers will call on the Legislature to pass the bill (A1470/S2311) to establish labor standards for the household workforce and prevent cases of abuse, such as that of a nanny named Patricia Francois.

Earlier this month, Francois announced she had filed a lawsuit against her former employers – an affluent Manhattan couple – for assault and battery and for not paying her overtime.

She claims the man gave her a black eye after she tried to stop him from yelling at his daughter.
She was aided in bringing the suit by Domestic Workers United, an advocacy group.

The organization says there are more than 200,000 nannies, housekeepers and caregivers in the New York City area, working out of the public eye, without legal protections offered to other workers, such as overtime pay, time off and health care.

The rally in the state capital is one of several events during the National Week of Action for domestic workers’ rights. There will be rallies all over the state, and workers will gather in churches to push for the bill.

The legislation has moved out of the Assembly and Senate labor committees.
“Our job is not recognized like a real job,” Ontiveros said. “We want to push Albany to pass the bill.”

Ontiveros joined Domestic Workers United a couple of years ago. The group helped her to place an ad and find a job.

“I’m working because they helped me,” Ontiveros said.

Ontiveros came here from Mexico City 17 years ago.

She worked in a factory at first, then worked as a school aide before becoming a housekeeper.
She and her husband have three children. Lately, he can’t find work in construction, his trade.

Her two teenage sons go to Catholic high school, and her younger son attends Catholic grammar school.

“I’m working to send my sons to school,” she said.

Of course, the recession has put a lot of these workers out on the street. I asked Ontiveros if even more will lose jobs if employers are required to pay overtime, medical benefits and other costs, and can’t afford to have a housekeeper or nanny.

“Some are afraid people won’t afford it and will fire them,” she acknowledged.

“My boss, he really needs people to work for him, watch the kids. He has the money, and we are happy working. It’s better to pay us good money, so we’re happy with each other.

“My kids love me,” she said of her charges. “If I go to another job, I know someone else will take care of them, but….” She paused, a catch in her throat.

“I love them.”

But she must think of her own children.

“I want them to go to Catholic school. I want them to have things,” she said.

So she will forgo a precious day’s pay to risk bettering her job situation, to ensure a brighter future for her kids.



  1. Information on the proposed Domestic Workers Bill of Rights:http://www.domesticworkersunited.org/media/files/110/Domestic-Workers-BOR-for-press.pdfhttp://www.domesticworkersunited.org/media.phpResponse Provided By:Wendy Sachs, INA Co-PresidentI applaud the in home child care providers who are hard at work pushing for fair wage and work rights for all domestic workers. All professionals deserve to be paid fairly, particularly nannies who take on the serious responsibility of helping parents raise their children in an unsupervised environment. I understand the need to seek out the wages that allow child care providers to make ends meet and reach their goals. Nannies salaries should reflect their background and experience, not their commitments to a lifestyle, though. Entry level nannies are typically at the lower end of the pay scale with more experienced “seasoned” nannies commanding a higher wage. Like all other professions, education and number of years devoted to developing skills typically would be revealed in a nanny’s higher salary. All nannies should be able to legally accept employment in the US. Concurrently, there should be a Domestic Employer’s rights bill, too. One of the reasons that wages are depressed is that in home providers are paid in dollars that are presumably taxed twice. Hear me out on this. When an employee of a business or non profit is paid, that expense is a before tax expense, it is paid in non taxed dollars. That goes for all benefits paid as well, all before taxed dollars. The domestic employer does not get that treatment. The domestic employer brings home their after tax money to then pay the nanny and the SAME related employer taxes. It is ALL paid from his net amount. Hence the money the nanny receives in double taxed. Admittedly, there are child care tax credits. But the amounts pale to what the number would be if the domestic employer had the same tax treatment as the non domestic employer. Perhaps if the tax code didn’t discriminate against the domestic employer, the domestic employee would ultimately earn a better wage.

  2. I applaud Domestic Workers United and all those nannies lobbying for more rights.I am not sure that taxes are remotely the biggest issue and they certainly aren’t the only issues nannies cope with though. Because the tax laws are difficult to understand, follow, or seldom complied with, is not the major reason so many nannies do not have rights. I understand what Wendy is saying above, nannygate is a huge issue. But tax code isn’t why nannies are disrespected and rights aren’t enforced.First, it’s a social economic issue, rich people don’t respect domestics.Next, most domestics do not even know about labor laws or worker’s rights.Do most nannies know labor laws about work hours per week and overtime rate for hours worked over 40 to 45 hours per week?Do nannies know their employers are required by law to compensate them for gas milage when they use their own cars for work?Do live-in’s know they must have a private room? Private bath? They are protected by how many hours worked per day, per week?Taxes are just another issue for domestic employees to deal with in the entire scheme of things. Nannygate is a huge issue! But, not the main issue by far. It is great that the INA is now lobbying for change in the child care tax credit. Maybe that will help because the low tax credit isn’t much of a help to parents at all as it is currently. (Isn’t it less than $2,000 a year which obviously is helpful but does not pay for a full-time nanny — maybe two weeks work of full-time nanny)!So yes, I agree with Wendy that commented above that we must change tax laws, and child care tax credit must be increased, and nannies deserve to have taxes paid for social security and medicare and so on… But, other issues are important and ignored and must be changed too! What about health care benefits (especially for domestic workers that are parents with small children themselves), worker’s comp, fair working hours, enough days off between work weeks, OVERTIME RATES (most nannies average work week is more like 60 hours per week not 40-45 hours per week and seldom will nannies get paid an overtime rate that is time and a half) and so on.What about the thousands of immigrants that work as nannies and think they cannot switch jobs or ask for more salary or benefits because they feel they will be in trouble with immigration?! They are paralized and stuck and at times neglected or abused because of fear of being deported as if an angry employer will turn them in. That’s a huge problem. They do not know that labor laws protect them too. Yep, they can actually say they do not want to clean toilets when asked rather than being a servant scared to say “no” in fear of retaliation. Doesn’t matter if you are an immigrant or not, employers cannot hold on to your passport, green card, paperwork….yet it happens all the time.I hope the tax code changes but that’s not the main reason nannies aren’t treated fairly.Nanny Meghan L. Newark NJ

  3. Ms. Sachs comments that she wants to help parents. That’s great but it’s agencies that have to help educate parents and take part of the blame for worker’s rights not being upheld. If you want to help the parents out then I recommend nanny agency staff help teach parents about labor laws. All labor laws. All nanny agencies should be required to provide parents with all information about labor laws and worker’s rights.Currently I doubt parents get much info about labor laws and workers rights from agencies. That is probably because it’s nearly impossible to regulate if parents are following labor laws and workers rights and that’s why nannies are neglected and abused.I have heard of New York City agnecies getting fined because New York City cops would call the agency saying they are a parent then state something illegal. Specifially they would say they would prefer not to hire someone from the Islands. That’s illegal. Then the agencies were fined. They were also fined for not having the proper lisences. But that’s all the regulation I have ever heard about (twice that’s it). Nannygate: Parents not submitting taxes on their domestic employees behalf is just another symptom of ill-informed or misinformed parents. If a parent calls a nanny agency and says something like, “I would prefer not hiring a caregiver from the Islands,” then the agency staff members are required by law not to discriminate. The agency staff is supposed to say that: “Sorry but it illegal to discriminate based on race, culture, age, religion, and so on…. But we would be happy to refer qualified nanny candidates to interview with you.”DO ANY AGENCIES DO THAT? Unlikely. So, agency employees are part of the problem too. They should make the parents sign contracts that they will submit taxes as required by law, will not discriminate based on race or religion, and so on…or they will not refer nanny candidates to interview with those parents.We know why agencies don’t have such contracts, it’s because it’s estimated that up to 90% of domestic employers do not pay or submit taxes (as required by law) and agencies do not want to lose so many clients. Well, the law is the law and agencies might very well be part of the problem. Why aren’t agencies held to a higher standard?Career Nanny 15 Years Louise F.

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