In her twenty-two years of working as a nanny, Jennifer Bernard has seen her share of humiliations—sixty-plus-hour weeks, low pay with no overtime, last-minute schedule changes. “Sometimes they’d call at the end of the day and say ‘We have to have a late dinner,’ ” she says. Even when Bernard had her own young son at home, she felt like she couldn’t say no.
But that sense of powerlessness has all but vanished since the New York Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights went into effect in 2010. When Bernard was looking for a new job six months ago, the first time she had looked for work since the law passed, she felt able to make her limits and expectations clear. “I said I was not willing to do some kinds of housework,” says Bernard, who’s 56 and came to this country from Trinidad in 1990. “I said my job is to take care of the baby and I do it well and it takes a lot of time. I said it and did not feel bad about it.”
Perhaps more remarkable, the Park Slope mother who went on to hire Bernard to care for her newborn was similarly straightforward. “For the first time, I was asked to fill out an application and do a background check,” says Bernard. “And then it just hit home with me that this is a real job.”
This was the intended effect of this first-of-its-kind state law: that by guaranteeing them overtime at the rate of time and a half, a day off every week, and a statement of hours, among other basic labor protections, privately employed nannies, cooks, housekeepers and home health aides would be treated more like other workers.
Yet even with the law in place, many nannies in New York aren’t in employment negotiations like Bernard’s, according to a survey of hiring and firing practices, wages and hours, and general treatment of childcare workers released by the neighborhood group Park Slope Parents in November. The study found that only 15 percent of more than 1000 respondents reported paying their nannies at least 1.5 times their official rate when they worked more than 40 hours a week, as the new law requires, and that 44 percent didn’t pay any overtime at all. The group found that nannies are paid an average of between $14.22 and $16.32 per hour, depending on the number of children they care for. (Minimum wage is $7.25 in New York state.)
Local media took the numbers as an indictment of the Brooklyn neighborhood. A Daily News story headlined “Tough ‘sit’! Park Slopers stiffing nannies OT” pretty much summed up the coverage: “They’re wealthy, socially conscious and obsessed with their kids—but many Park Slopers aren’t following the law when it comes to their nannies.”