Behind the recently passed bills in both halves of New York’s legislature to extend basic workplace protections to domestic workers lies a union you’ve probably never heard of: Domestic Workers United. Only in New York, and only since 1999, DWU has been working to organize domestic workers and campaign for rights that are standard in other professions and in other countries: sick days, notice or termination pay, overtime, contracts. This week’s New York Magazine profiles members and offers salacious details on a nanny/employer horror story (slapping, punching, 911). It’s not clear how–beyond moral support–a union helps in that kind of situation. What’s more interesting is how the union–and any organization of babysitters or nannies–can offer a welcome clarity to families and caregivers alike.
What’s fair? Most parents, hiring anyone from a new regular date-night sitter to a nanny, would prefer to have some guidelines. The DWU and its stories of nanny mistreatment are pretty abstract for most of the country; I know a few people with au pairs (who are very strictly regulated) but none, outside of a few friends on either coast, with an actual “nanny.” But I’m still interested, and it’s not just because everyone likes to hear about the Real Housewives of New York City. I’m interested because even as someone with only an intellectual interest in Manhattan nanny-dom, I can relate to how difficult it is to figure out how to have a good, fair, healthy relationship with the assorted babysitters who take care of my kids when I’m working and they’re not in school. I’d welcome the advice of a union–or practically anyone else.
New York nannies hope to see set rules regarding sick and vacation days, paid holidays, overtime and termination pay. If I were a New York parent, I’d welcome those things, too. In my world, some standards regarding cancellations, dishwasher loading and other light chores, mileage and the like would be welcome. I know–a union wouldn’t really help–even the DWU doesn’t offer any guidance on salaries and holiday bonuses, nor do either of the bills in the NY State legislature. But I think most parents really want to do the right thing by the people who take care of our kids, even if it’s just for a few hours on alternating Thursday nights.