Foes Line Up to Oppose Nanny Bill of Rights

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Photo: Sarah Wilmers

Assuming it doesn’t shut down entirely, Albany is on the verge of passing the nation’s first bill of rights for domestic workers. On June 1, the State Senate passed a measure sponsored by Diane Savino of Brooklyn and Staten Island guaranteeing nannies and other household employees protections like one day off a week, paid overtime past 40 hours a week, six paid holidays, seven sick days, and five vacation days per year, and a fourteen-day notice of termination. The next step is to reconcile the bill with a version that passed the Assembly last year. Governor Paterson has vowed to sign it. As Jennifer Gonnerman wrote in the magazine last week, it seems like history is about to be made, and for a cause that’s pretty hard to impugn. The bill would protect some 200,000 domestic workers in the New York area alone (many of whom leave their own families to take care of others) who historically have been exempted from many of the labor laws that protect most of the rest of us. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t people lining up to stop the measure from making it to Paterson’s desk. Since the Senate version (which is much more far-reaching than the Assembly’s) was passed, the bill has come under attack not only from conservatives, but also from some surprising constituencies. Below, the primary complaints:

The added costs will hurt everyone.
“Though many parents support giving nannies full workers’ rights, some may balk at the costs,” noted a Wall Street Journal blog, which cited a recent Park Slope Parents listserv’s survey that suggested that close to half of the neighborhood’s parents would have to pay overtime and that only about a third currently do so. “That some employers will scale back what they are currently giving their nannies because it is beyond what is legally required (e.g., minimum wage) is certainly a possibility,” Park Slope Parents’ Susan Fox said. In other words, families will just use nannies for fewer hours — something neither families nor nannies want.

The bill legitimizes illegal immigrants.
Call it the tea-party argument. Both the Senate and Assembly versions of the measure apply to employers regardless of whether their employees are documented. Conservatives call that a benefit extended to illegal immigrants. That benefit already exists in most every other line of work, Savino notes. “It's already against the law to hire someone in this country illegally. And if you do employ someone illegally, you are still required to follow the labor law. We're not extending anything that labor law doesn't already do.”

The bill is unenforceable.
“It will easily make it onto any 10 Least Enforceable Laws list,” predicted Claudia Deutsch in True/Slant. “The problem, of course, is that all too often, domestic workers and employers are on the same side.” Some bosses, that is, don’t want to pay taxes or benefits that they don’t have to pay, and some nannies want to work long hours and not declare their earnings. These people, the argument goes, inevitably find each other and render the law moot.

The bill gives nannies rights other working people don’t have.
This complaint was perhaps most urgently articulated by an unsigned editorial in the Daily News asserting that the Senate bill would give nannies “a special right to haul mothers and fathers into court for alleged labor violations,” plus the fact that “some violations of [Savino’s] bill could bring misdemeanor charges and fines ranging from $500 to $20,000 and up to one year in prison.” “Savino pushed through economic bonuses for this one class of employees,” the paper argued.

“These are not special rights,” Savino says. “This is a recognition that there are some things about this group of workers that makes them different than others — particularly a live-in nanny. If you are fired at will, we are saying they should be provided with a fourteen-day termination notice because they would be homeless if they are fired.”

The Daily News editorial also called the Senate’s version “a classic example of Albany Democrats running amok, trying to dictate to the private market and bend economic forces to their deluded will. Never mind who picks up the tab.” Says Savino, “The Daily News has been obsessed with the passage of the farmworkers' bill of rights and yet they don't see the disparity for domestic workers as being unjust. I doubt there are too many farmworkers who read the Daily News. But 200,000 domestic workers must read the Daily News every day.”