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Issue: 8.1: Fall 2009
Guest Edited by Gisela Fosado and Janet R. Jakobsen
Valuing Domestic Work

Employer Testimonials

Jews for Racial and Economic Justice

Jews for Racial and Economic Justice has worked with Domestic Workers United since 2002 to obtain basic worker rights for domestic workers through their Shalom Bayit campaign. Joining DWU's marches and other actions, they have worked to raise awareness and to change policy in New York City and State. The four testimonies included below by Donna Schneiderman and her daughter, Gayle Kirshenbaum and Judith Trachtenberg, all employers of domestic workers, were read during vigils and other actions over the past few years.

Donna Schneiderman

Donna Schneiderman is one of the co-chairs of JFREJ's Shalom Bayit Campaign. She gave this speech at press conferences throughout the domestic workers' justice campaign in 2009.

My name is Donna Schneiderman and I'm a member of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, or JFREJ. I am an employer in JFREJ's Employers for Justice Network, a group of 100 employers of domestic workers who have improved their employment practices and taken action in support of the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights. I'm here in Albany today lobbying with Domestic Workers for the Domestic Worker's Bill of Rights to show my commitment to fair employment practices. I believe that passage of the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights will help bring respect to an industry where respect is long overdue.

Over 10 years ago, through a recommendation of a colleague and good friend, I had the opportunity to hire a loving, experienced and dedicated caregiver to watch my six-month-old daughter three days a week while I worked part-time. I am fortunate and grateful that the same caregiver is still looking after my now 11-year-old and her eight-year-old sister on the days I am working. Over the 10-plus years of this solid mutually-respectful relationship, my husband and I believe we have been fair in how we've paid our domestic worker, how we've determined days off, vacation pay and year-end bonuses, etc. Yet even after all these years, I am not entirely sure that what we deem to be fair is in fact fair. How can we be sure without standards?

When I was a new mom, before the days of online social networking, we relied on the park bench chatter to determine the "going rate" for babysitters—according to the more-experienced "experts" (moms with toddlers), the rate depended on the number of weekly hours, multiple kids, housework involved, years of experience, all sorts of factors. I found most of my fellow-new-moms were reluctant to discuss what they were paying for fear of seeming cheap on one end; and on the other end, concerned that others would say they were driving up the wages. Here we were, sleep-deprived and anxious new moms—clueless in many ways as to what it takes to be a caregiver—chatting about what seemed fair or not.

These days, the park bench has moved to the Internet, with its numerous online groups for new moms. One of the most common questions posted at these forums is, "How much should I pay my babysitter?," followed by, "How much vacation time is expected for my nanny?," or similar versions of these questions. New moms are asking about bonus pay, days off, sick time and yes, even about healthcare coverage. From my experiences and these online discussions, it's clear that many employers want to treat their domestic workers fairly, but don't know exactly how. A Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights would help set standards and define guidelines for everyone.

There is another point that I have been trying to crystallize since I started getting involved with the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights. I have noted an absence in voices from the caregivers on the park bench and online at the Internet forums. In fact, when I've tried to discuss with our caregiver whether or not the wages my husband and I determined to be fair are indeed fair, even after a long respectful relationship, I still sense her discomfort in being frank with me. And as a result, I am truly not sure if I am being fair to her. Discussing wages is a difficult conversation for any employee to have with an employer. It is far more difficult for those who have worked in a field where there is so much employer-discretion involved and where domestic work gets very little respect. As a result, domestic workers often internalize this powerlessness and become less able to advocate for themselves in their workplaces. Organizing with their fellow domestic workers, and winning the establishment of standards in the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights, will greatly improve their ability to speak up for what is fair. And as a result, their voices will be included on the park benches and chat groups.

I believe that we teach our children how to respect others by, in fact, respecting others. The standards that would result from a Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights would help create a foundation of respect in our homes, which in turn benefits our children. With clearly defined standards in place, there is a baseline of understanding between employer and employee on difficult-to-discuss topics such as wages and days off. As a result of clearer and more respectful communication, the relationship is nurtured and respect is strengthened. Our children ultimately benefit the most when they observe a congenial and trusting relationship between parents and caregiver. They are given the sense that their parents value the care being provided to them, and they learn that all work and all people deserve respect. Standards defined by the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights will help us have honest and direct conversations with our domestic workers, allowing us to demonstrate respect in our homes.

Most of all, I am here speaking out on the need for a Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights because domestic work is the work that makes other work possible. Our domestic worker makes it possible for me to work with peace of mind and an easy heart. This is something only a parent who has left a child in someone else's care can understand. When you trust that while you are at work your child will be cared for in a loving way, that decisions will be made for her well-being with good judgment, and that she will be played with, read to, sung to and spoken to in a kind manner—then and only then are you able to focus on your work. I have benefited from this level of professional childcare. It is in honor and appreciation of all that my caregiver has given my family over these past 10 years that I am here. And I know there are thousands of other caregivers out there in New York who deserve the same honor and appreciation. I see them everyday and so does everyone here. These are hard-working, dedicated individuals who deserve the right to be respected like any other professional deserves.

On behalf of Employers for Justice; Jews for Racial and Economic Justice; and in solidarity with Domestic Workers United, I am here to tell the New York State legislature that now is the time to pass a Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights.

Thank you.

Donna Schneiderman's daughter gave the following testimony for the Children's Vigil in 2008, an event bringing together children of domestic workers and the children domestic workers take care of, organized to highlight the issue as a family issue.

[I have been cared for by a] babysitter for ten years—from the time I was six months old! [My babysitter] has helped me with my homework and one project she helped me with I got an A+ for! She has taught me how to fold laundry and she has helped me embroider and paint. When I was a toddler she played the "Beach Game" with me—a silly game I invented when I was little.

My parents respect [my babysitter] and treat her like she's part of our family. Many times she and my mom have long conversations before she leaves. Both my parents rely on [my babysitter] so that they can go to work knowing that my sister and I are being taken care of. The babysitting profession is important because it helps make other jobs happen.

I support domestic workers' rights because I want babysitters like [mine] to have paid sick days and vacation time so that they can take care of themselves when they're sick and spend time with family when they want to.

I'm here speaking about [my babysitter] because I don't think it's fair that some babysitters aren't treated fairly. I think it's important for kids to know about domestic workers' rights because a lot of the kids I know have babysitters and they should be aware of how some babysitters are being treated.

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© 2009 Barnard Center for Research on Women | S&F Online - Issue 8.1: Fall 2009 - Valuing Domestic Work