by Rebecca Honig Friedman
When I was in fifth grade, my class had a special Thanksgiving program in which each child got to choose one special person in her life to whom she would publicly give a list of thank yous (and a home-made, mini sweet potato pie.)
I chose my mom; Sarah Berger* chose her nanny.
The Bergers’ nanny, Ella*, was an old, African-American woman who had lived with them for over a decade and was considered part of the family.
The part that cooked their meals, washed their clothes, cared for their children, cleaned the Park Avenue apartment, and allowed the family to function.
No wonder Sarah loved her so much.
Though I wonder if, at the age of ten, she realized that Ella did all those things not for the love alone, but because she got paid to do them.
Today is Blog for Domestic Workers Day, in conjunction with a big town hall meeting that will be held on Thursday, June 7, in New York City to discuss the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights that is being pushed through New York State legislature by Domestic Workers United (DWU).
If the bill is approved it will secure for domestic workers — who as a group have been excluded from most federal and state labor laws, including the National Labor Relations Act — the right to paid sick days and holidays, health insurance (or a slightly higher wage), and a very respectable minimum wage (almost twice that of the city’s official minimum wage, it’s one of the more controversial aspects of the bill).
But perhaps more importantly, as the NY Daily News article about the Domestic Workers Bill points out, the bill “will compel employers to treat nannies and housekeepers not as servants, but as what they are: real workers.”
I would take it a step further: it will compel employers to remember that though their nannies and housekeepers might feel like members of the family, at the end of the day, they are still workers, who need to be paid a fair wage and given benefits.
No matter if you support the specifics of the bill or even live in New York State, the rights of domestic workers is an important issue for us Jewesses to consider. Many of us were raised with the help of domestic workers or will enlist their help to raise our own children, and we need to think about how we want the people who take care of our children, and our homes, to be treated.
Even if we do not have personal experience with “household help,” as Jews we have a strong tradition of advocating for workers rights. The Torah even protects the rights of slaves.
Which is why Jews in particular have been organizing around this issue:
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice is taking a unique approach to the problem by organizing an Employers for Justice network in synagogues and other Jewish communities.
“Employers feel that the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights falls in line with their Jewish values,” said Danielle Feris, a community organizer with the group. “And that it is beneficial to have a protected and stable work environment for those who care for their most precious possessions.”
Hard to argue with that.
*Names have been changed.
Posted on June 5th, 2007 Filed under: Uncategorized |