Note: This op-ed was written by founding Hand in Hand member Gayle Kirshenbaum and published on Labor Day 2019.
This week, I took my kid to college. I’m feeling proud, sad, and immensely grateful for everyone who has supported me as a mother over the past 18 years — especially a woman from Jamaica named Debbie, who for two years skillfully, tirelessly and lovingly cared for my child as a part-time nanny.
On August 31, 2010, New York Gov. David Paterson marked Labor Day by signing the nation’s first-ever Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. It was a historic day, the culmination of years of advocacy by worker activists. It gave birth to a national movement for domestic workers’ rights, which has resulted in the passage of bills of rights in eight additional states, one city, and in July, the introduction of a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights by Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Pramila Jayapal.
A decade ago, I joined workers and other domestic employers in Albany to express my appreciation for Debbie’s work in our home and explain why labor standards for domestic workers benefit workers and employers alike. As I wrote in these pages, I had no idea how to be an employer in my own home. I wanted to do the right thing but needed help to do it.
That’s what we told legislators in Albany — and what employers told legislators in Washington, D.C. this summer as representatives of Hand in Hand, which supports domestic employers to be fair employers.
To all employers of nannies, housecleaners, and home attendants: In honor of this Labor Day, tell your friends, families, and especially your representatives in Congress that a domestic worker in your home or in the home of a loved one has made a difference in your life. Ask them to support the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which calls for basic workplace protections as well as rights and benefits specific to the unique challenges of domestic work, such as written work agreements and scheduling transparency; workforce development and training, along with education for employers; and a funding provision that addresses the affordability of care.
Landmark legislation is passed only when we talk to each other about what matters. When we tell each other about what’s really going on in our lives, about what’s going on in our homes.
Tell everyone you know how hard it is to navigate the care crisis in your family. How overwhelmed you are with managing adequate care for an aging parent or for your children or both. Talk about what kind of guidance you need. Know that you are not alone.
Tell everyone you know about the special game a nanny plays with your child. The way a housecleaner carefully replaces your dishes after dusting a shelf. The way your dad lights up when the home attendant who cares for him walks through the door in the morning.
Tell the worker in your home or in the home of a family member how much you value their work. And then consider whether their pay matches your words.
Nine years ago this Labor Day, I felt so fortunate to be raising a child in New York State, the first in the nation to formally recognize the invisible labor of those working behind the closed doors of our homes. When I became a mother, my home became a workplace — and I was grateful that New York finally recognized that fact.
I hope that the almost 2.7 million New Yorkers — parents, seniors, people with disabilities and others — who count on the support of workers in your homes will once again support this groundbreaking movement led by the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
All of our families and communities will be stronger when, at long last, our society begins to care for the caregivers.
Kirshenbaum is a founding member of Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network.