The Catch 22 of New York’s nanny law
On the surface, the proposal sounds oh-so-logical, not to mention just and fair: Give domestic workers, be they nannies or housekeepers or once-a-week maids, the same protections and perks that conventional employees get. Give them paid sick leave, vacations, severance pay, and at least two-week’s notice if you are going to let them go. And do it if they are citizens, legal immigrants, even illegals. Who can argue against that?
In principal, nobody (well, okay, the illegal immigrant part is going to raise its share of ire, but hold your fire for a moment). And Albany seems to have signed on: The Assembly passed a bill last year, the State Senate passed one this week, and most Albany-watchers expect Gov. Patterson will soon sign a reconciled version into law.
If he does, it will easily make it onto any 10 Least Enforceable Laws list. And an unenforceable law is much worse than no law at all. It raises false hopes among domestic workers. It gets their advocates to congratulate themselves on a victory and turn to other causes. And it emboldens exploiters to continue business as usual, confident that the government has taken its best shot and will also move on.
The problem, of course, is that all too often, domestic workers and employers are on the same side. Many employers don’t want to pay social security or payroll taxes or other fees for their nannies and maids; many nannies and maids don’t want to declare their incomes. I have known three who wouldn’t accept checks as payment — one didn’t have a checking account, but two just didn’t want a paper trail of any kind regarding their income.
And that, of course, brings us to the illegal immigrant issue. Sure, it sounds compassionate and embracing to say that anyone, legal or not, should have a right to recourse if they are being exploited. But how exactly does an illegal immigrant sue an employer without outing himself/herself? I can see a worst-case scenario if this passes, whereby people who currently employ citizens and legals might actively seek illegals, just to avoid the cost and paperwork.
I am sounding like the worst sort of Tea Partyer here. I’m not, truly. It has always horrified me that as a society we consistently underpay and undervalue the people who take care of our most precious resource, our children. And I wish there were a workable way to bring their benefits and salaries up to par. I just don’t think this kind of legislation is that way.