Behind Closed Doors

Protect domestic workers, the people who raise your children and clean your house

This is an excellent article posted on the BLOGGING MOLLY blog by Molly Knefel.

If you live in New York City and have ever walked past a playground, you may have noticed the park benches are lined with women of color watching, feeding, changing, cleaning, and playing with children who are not their own. I should specify that this phenomenon is unique to certain neighborhoods– much of Manhattan, and the wealthy neighborhoods in Brooklyn. In the lower income neighborhoods of NYC, of course, you see the playgrounds filled with children, but they are being taken care of by older siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins. But in the wealthier, predominantly whiter parts of the city, if you look closely, you’ll notice an incredible phenomenon– a city full of children who are being raised by people who aren’t their parents.

Ah, nannies. What would we do without them? Seeing women of color walking around the West Village or the Upper East Side pushing strollers with little white babies whose clothes are more expensive than mine is such a common sight in this city that most people hardly notice. Amongst those who have money, it’s an equally normal thing to have a few other people who help you, too– women who clean your house once or twice a week, women who do your laundry, men who drop off your groceries for you, and men who open the door for you (although, pretty soon, people may have to start opening their own doors). But I digress– I mean to talk not about groceries or opening doors, but about domestic workers.
According to Domestic Workers United, there are 200,000 domestic workers in New York City, and 93% of them are women of color. Domestic workers have historically been denied equal labor rights– something I discovered firsthand when, last year, I was a nanny working 50 hours a week and was told that domestic workers don’t qualify for overtime. It’s pretty shocking that a group of people so large (not to mention so incredibly important) can be blatantly denied basic labor rights. According to a video posted by Feministing, half of domestic workers work more than 60 hours a week and 67% don’t receive overtime.
This is so frustrating, not only to see such a large group of workers get so little respect, but to think about what would happen without them. Can you imagine Manhattan without nannies, cleaning women or home health aides? The city would grind to a halt. I imagine million dollar apartments buried in grime and dirty laundry and well-dressed children freely roaming the streets, starting stylish little street gangs. It’s a really complicated issue, and I don’t want to suggest that there’s anything wrong with families who depend on domestic work (although, growing up in the Midwest, the concept of a “nanny” doesn’t exist– instead, daycare exists, where one frazzled grown-up is responsible for an unruly gang of children). But the fact is, domestic work as it exists today relies heavily on institutionalized racism and exploitation of women of color. The NYCLU has adapted this video from a longer piece, “Behind Closed Doors,” which talks about the historic roots of domestic work:
Click here to see video, read rest of the article, and comment on the article.
Do you know any nannies mistreated? For example, do you know anyone making less than minimum wage?


  1. I know a lot of nannies that hate their jobs and are asked to do degrading tasks like picking up dog poop in the yard, but I don't know anyone in a "slavery" situation. What about your points about jobs for less than minimum wage all over the nanny web sites? It's illegal and yet nothing is done about it? Plus, the 50+ hour work week is typical for nannies!

  2. This is what the domestic workers united is all about. And I encourage every nanny to visit their site to understand this fight can be done about is for domestic workers to band together across the country like they have in NYC, just as they did in part of MD. Do you want to know someone in a slavery situation? No. But does that mean you know every nanny out there.What nannies can do is continue to vigiliant and vocal about this all? To constantly educate other caregivers about the right to earn more than minimum wage.To get our profession licensed, so that we do appear more legitimate in the eyes of others.What we don't do is throw in the towel and say this is the way it is?

  3. I know a lot of nannies that are immigrants without their green cards yet who are taken advantage of. I asked a friend why she didn't ask for more money when the family had a newborn and her answer was that she doesn't drive and doesn't have a green card. She doesn't want to "rock the boat." Very afraid, so gets taken advantage of.

  4. Problem is that so many nannies are illegal so they won't join Domestic Workers United. This is our only union. Other professional nanny organizations aren't offering the labor reform needed to help domestic workers?Do you know a nanny making under minimum wage? Do you make less than minimum wage? Do you know any illegal nannies in your neighborhood? If so, they are often taken advantage of. Do you work overtime without time and a half rate? Probably? Do you have health insurance provided by your employers? Probably not. All these are needed for domestic workers.Teachers and nurses used to not get any benefits, still aren't paid enough IMO but they have union to ensure basic labor laws are adhered to. Thanks for posting this because I am confused why so many nannies are passive and don't take action to help themselves and the industry as a whole.

  5. I have a nanny friend with 20 yrs experience sleeping next to the boiler in the basement while the family has two nice guest bedrooms in the house.

  6. Illegals don't join the union or stand up for themselves for fear of deportation. For American's there is no excuse. Since we are individuals we must negotiate our own salary rates and benefits. If you allow yourself to be walked over like a doormat then you will be. We need a union and we need to protect ourselves. We have no excuse.From, Tonya

  7. There are too MANY nanny jobs here on LI that pay WAAAAY less than min wage……..It SUCKS! $375week for a full time position .Not me!!

  8. I feel bad for the nannies who get taken advantage of..but really,no one can take advantage of you unless you let them.I encoutered many families who were paying low salaries, not offering benefits, paying over-time or asking a live out nanny to work 60 hours per week. I don't want to get myself in that type of situation because I know it's not fair- so all you cna do is keep searching for a family who is paying fairly.Personally I don't think nannies need a "union". If you educate yourself and keep up on your CPR/1st Aid, attend workshops, etc.You will be able to market yourself better.These ladies who are getting paid less than or min wage…that is awful- but they are willing to do it- and families that do that- know the woman are desperate- so this will continue. So, I don't think a union will make a difference.Another thing that bothered me was I saw they wanted the starting pay to be $15 per hour. But they never said what they will bring to the table in order to justify that rate.

  9. I am happy this newsletter brought up the topic of nanny websites allowing parents to post jobs for under minimum wage, which is illegal. Any suggestions on what to do next? If not a union, what?

  10. It is almost impossible to monitor domestics workers. Labor laws are broken all the time by parents but how can they be held accountable?The only way the parents are punished is that their angry nanny leaves the job without notice. Seriously, parents need to put themselves in the shoes of the nanny. Would they take the job they are offering? Nanny Valerie HurleyParent to 3Grandmother to 6Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

  11. I was surprised she said nannies are unheard of in the midwest. We are not.Nanny Valerie…I grew up in Bloomfield Hills and live near there now. We'd love to have you join our nanny group… :-)Tara

  12. Hi Tara,Thank you for the invitation Tara! My husband and I are actually about to move to Florida to retire in a month. We could have done playdates, ha ha! I probably will nanny in Florida too since it's a fun way to keep busy and make money.I think the author isn't a nanny so it's clever and emotional and well written, even if a little inaccurate in her "feelings". Other mistakes she made were obviously white and every race nanny work for affluent black, Asian, Indian families and Ameriricans are nannies, not just immigrants. But, she did a good job writing this article.Valerie

  13. There are many things need to fall into place before this reform will happen. And, it starts with all types of education.1. Politicians are not going to like getting on board for these rules unless something is done where the taxes are being paid. The pols need to answer to their voters, and voters don't care for people who get a free ride by being paid under the table and then they take advantage of tax payer paid programs like food stamps, health coverage, etc.2. Politicians would also prefer that employees are here to work legally, this doesn't sit well with the voters and the unemployed as well.3. Licensing of this professional could possible help both politicians and employers to take this occupation seriously.4. When licensing happens (gee maybe it means adding jobs back into the economy to manage that) it means caregivers can be held more accountable for their professional development. It's really not in the best interest of children to have people who don't know what they are doing or really not wanting to be doing childcare to work with them.5. It weeds out the saturation of people who think they can be a nanny so that the competent caregivers don't have to settle for less pay due to the whole supply and demand thing.Somebody had said above that nanny associations should take action. Or there should be a union or something. I agree with this. It would accomplish far for our profession if we did organize and take up a cause.

  14. Dear parents:You get what you pay for.Dear Nannies:There are still parents out there that value their nannies and will pay for their service. I won't accept less and I make $60K. Dear Parents:You have to make the job attractive to the nanny or they will keep looking for something better! At least if you pay them well they won't leave because you are cheap!!

  15. Lisa-There are laws set for nannies(Household employees).The organizations for nannies-International Nanny Assoc. (INA) and NANC- Nat'l Assoc. for Nanny Care- I feel has helped nannies-who are seeking help.From my own exp. with them, I have learned who to be a better nanny and how to market myself correctly.So I think the problem is with the families who are not educated on how to hire/keep/correctly pay a nanny. The question I have is how do we, as professional career nannies, help to educate the families?

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