Susan Tokayer on Domestic Workers United

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November 4-6, I had the honor of attending Nannypalooza. It was a wonderful, well- organized conference and the first Nannypalooza I’ve ever attended. I am so happy that I made the decision to go, for a variety of reasons: the networking opportunities, the fun, and the sessions.

One of the sessions I attended was a panel discussion with representatives from Domestic Workers United (DWU). Domestic Workers United, as you probably know, was founded in New York City in 2000. To learn more about their organization you can visit their web site: www.domesticworkersunited.org/.

The panel’s intention was to provide information regarding their movement and their organizational goals. I attended the session, already knowing much about what the organization is doing and who their constituents are. However, being able to discuss issues with the DWU panel, listening to questions posed by the audience, and hearing the responses from the panel proved to be incredibly educational.

Admittedly, my impression of the DWU movement was negative before I entered the session. I left with those feelings reinforced, and I will tell you why.

One of the most disturbing things about DWU is that they manipulate terminology so that what they say isn’t exactly what they mean.  For example, representatives often refer to their constituents as “immigrants,” and claim (throughout all of their literature and on their web site) that these immigrants are excluded from and not protected by labor laws.

If you visit DWU’s web site and read these types of claims you may initially think, Wow, these people are looking out for a group of people that are unprotected.  But, when you investigate further you will find that when DWU uses the term “immigrant” they refer to a specific group of immigrants only: undocumented workers. Undocumented workers (90% of DWU’s constituent base) are individuals who are in this country illegally and are not eligible to legally accept employment.  Immigrants who are in this country legally, of course, have the same worker rights and protections as anyone who is legally able to accept employment in the United States.

DWU also claims that they have helped implement laws that didn’t exist before they advocated for them. For example, the “domestic bill of rights” law that passed in N.Y. state last year was in fact already in existence. Prior to the passing of this law, domestic workers were already entitled to 1½ times their pay beyond a work week of 40 hours and they were already entitled to workman’s compensation.  Part of the “new” law that was passed requires that domestic workers receive a minimum of three days’ vacation after one year of employment. This is substandard in our industry, where most nannies receive a minimum of two weeks’ vacation each year.

While I could go on about the distortions present in DWU’s message, my intent is to encourage you to do your own research before backing their cause. As you research, you will not find one mention of the importance of quality childcare or the importance of children being cared for by qualified, responsible caregivers.

I believe much of DWU’s movement is not going to do anything to change our industry in a positive way.  In fact, I can only see a negative impact for quality caregivers that now have to compete for a job that an undocumented worker is likely to accept at a lower salary. It is truly unfortunate that a movement with tremendous momentum is not working towards positive change for our industry.  Imagine if their message instead was that we need more quality, low-cost education available for nannies so that they can improve their skills, or that we need more tax incentives so that parents can afford quality childcare.

The representatives of DWU who were present at Nannypalooza expected and desired the support of all those present. Until the mission and rhetoric of this organization changes I can’t offer my support. Can you?

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