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NEW YORK NEW YORK – Nanny bill overdue

Tony Best

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A nanny for more than a dozen years in New York, Pat Francois can write a book about the joys and perils of care-givers who make a living looking after other people’s children.“I love what I do and I work very hard,” the Bajan wrote in an Op-Ed commentary in one of America’s largest daily tabloid newspapers.“Still, I don’t get respect. Neither the law nor society sees me or the more than 200 000 (mostly) women who do this work in the New York Metropolitan area as real workers.”The story she told recently about the awful way she was treated by a parent of the child entrusted to her care was typical of the tales of woe that inspired lawmakers in the New York State legislature to pass the Domestic Workers Bill.“I was devoted, yet I was exploited and abused,” she explained to the almost one million readers of the New York Daily News.
“I worked long hours and was not paid overtime. Whenever I tried to raise the question with my employer, I was shut down. I needed to hang on to the job out of necessity. I also stayed because I cared deeply for the wonderful little girl who was under my charge. She needed me as much as I needed the work.“My job finally ended, because my employer viciously insulted and physically attacked me,” the Bajan recalled. “He came home one day and was speaking to the child in a manner that  I felt was inappropriate. I tried to intervene and his response was to punch me in my face and torso. He even shouted racist slurs at me.”That experience is repeated almost daily throughout the tri-state  area – New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Francois, a member of Domestic Workers United, a ten-year-old organization of nannies, housekeepers and elderly caregivers, lobbied the State Assembly and Senate, encouraging the legislators to approve the Domestic Workers Bill whose provisions will boost wages and  improve the conditions of service of nannies, mostly immigrants from Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, Ireland, Germany, Britain, France, Haiti, Antigua and other Caribbean and European nations.Two lawmakers who supported the bill were Assemblyman Nick Perry and State Senator Kevin Parker, both Democrats of Brooklyn who represent largely West Indian districts.“It’s a landmark piece of legislation and it certainly puts New York State in the forefront of improving the working conditions for the people they call nannies and household help,” said Perry, a West Indian immigrant. State Senator Parker agreed. “This should have been done a long time ago,” said Parker. “This should be the beginning of a national movement to protect the mothers of our future doctors and lawyers.”For tens of thousands of West Indians, being a nanny gave them their first job in the United States. The meager wages were used to support their families and educate their own children. Under the bill, which is awaiting Governor David Paterson’s signature for it to become law, full-time domestics would receive overtime pay for the first time; be entitled to at least a day off a week from work; and would see their daily hours cut to eight, instead of the 12 or 16 hours they now work every day. But not all nannies are  abused. Some families have incorporated domestics into their households, treating them with respect. Many nannies owe their status as legal immigrants to the employers who later sponsored them. One such family even wrote a widely distributed book about the love and respect they have for a Bajan who worked for them in Manhattan.Still, a recent survey of 547 domestics in New York showed that more than a third reported suffering some form of physical and verbal abuse and two-thirds worked for more than 40 hours a week.It’s time to end that treatment.“We want to be treated with dignity and respect,” Francois told lawmakers.That’s certainly not too much to ask for.