By Naomi Abraham
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Historic job protections begin next month for domestic workers in New York. Overtime, paid leave and anti-discrimination provisions are part of a package that could start setting new standards for what some call the most vulnerable job market in every part of the world.
NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--Two years after leaving her job caring for a little girl who lived in an expensive apartment here, Patricia Francois, a 51-year-old Trinidadian, struggles to pay her bills with what she earns from odd jobs.
But she finds time for volunteer work dear to her heart. Every day she leaves her apartment with her bag stuffed with pamphlets and newsletters in case she runs into women who look like they could be nannies.
"I could be at the laundry or on the train," she said. "I need them to know they don't need to have fear in their heart."
On a recent afternoon around the time children get out from school, Francois was looking for nannies in a Central Park playground. Her mission: to tell them about a historic law that will provide basic employment protections to domestic workers in New York.
On Nov. 29 New York will be the first state in the United States to extend to domestic workers basic rights such as overtime pay, paid leave and protection from workplace discrimination.
All of the state's roughly 200,000 such workers, regardless of their immigration status, will be protected under the new law.
California--with twice as many domestic workers--is widely expected to be the next state to follow suit. While domestic workers are difficult to count, there could be as many as 2.5 million in the United States, according to estimates from the International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency that sets international standards on labor.
Francois credits a newsletter by Domestic Workers United, a New York based group, for changing the course of her life.
"I do not feel alone anymore," she said. After finding the publication on a park bench, she attended a meeting with the group and was immediately hooked.
A couple years ago, Francois could have been among those she was looking for in the playground. In those days she was watching over a little girl she had cared for since she was 18 months old.
But in December 2008, she quit her job after what she claims was a physical altercation with the girl's father, her employer of six years.
While she says her previous employer was only physically abusive once, that was enough. She was afraid to speak up against the father, who she says was often rude and emotionally abusive not only to her but also to the little girl who she had grown to love.
"We get caught up in dysfunctional families and sometimes we (domestic workers) have to bear the brunt of that," she said.
On top of that, no matter how many hours she worked, which typically averaged more than 50 hours a week, she received the same weekly pay of $500.
Francois' story is retold around the world in versions occasionally so horrifying they capture global interest.