Boston Globe: "Nannies in Mass. often denied overtime, survey says"

By Beth Healy | GLOBE STAFF JANUARY 11, 2016

A survey of nannies working in the Boston area found a wide disparity in the hourly wages of people who care for children in private homes, and a majority said they are not paid the legal rate for overtime.

The information was gathered by the Matahari Women Workers’ Center, a Boston group that advocates for women and immigrant workers, with a goal of gathering data about nannies’ demographics and employment situations.

A survey of nannies working in the Boston area found a wide disparity in the hourly wages of people who care for children in private homes, and a majority said they are not paid the legal rate for overtime.

The information was gathered by the Matahari Women Workers’ Center, a Boston group that advocates for women and immigrant workers, with a goal of gathering data about nannies’ demographics and employment situations.

The group’s members conducted the census by interviewing 350 nannies at playgrounds, libraries, and train stations, in neighborhoods from Brookline and Jamaica Plain to the South End and Cambridge.

The survey found that nannies in this region come from more than 25 countries and earn a median hourly pay of $18. But there is a wide range of pay, from $30 at the top end to as little as $4.44 per hour, after accounting for unpaid overtime hours or fixed salaries that don’t meet the minimum wage.

Nannies also widely expressed a need for paid sick time, which in Massachusetts is required only for businesses with at least 11 workers.

Only one-quarter of the nannies who participated said they were paid the legal overtime rate of time-and-a-half when they worked more than 40 hours a week.

“We still are having a problem on enforcement,’’ said Monique Nguyen Belizario, executive director of Matahari. “The nannies are not getting the overtime they are entitled to.”

Forty-six percent of nannies reported working more than 40 hours a week, after which they were legally entitled to overtime pay. But many women did not realize they were due overtime pay.

In some instances, employers sought to set their own overtime thresholds of 45 or 50 hours a week, contrary to the law.

Angella Foster, a nanny for 15 years in Jamaica Plain, said she has worked for generous families as well as difficult ones. In one case, she also served as housekeeper and cook, and was asked to help with other jobs.

“They really took advantage,’’ Foster said. She also said she worked a “nanny share” arrangement, caring for the children of several families at once, and found it challenging.There were difficulties scheduling and sudden cancellations, and families going on vacation and leaving her without pay.

“You’re not benefiting from that situation,’’ Foster, a Matahari member, said in an interview. “I vowed, after last year, not to do a nanny share any more.”

Today, she is caring for one child in Roslindale and has a written agreement with the family that outlines her pay and job description.

Another nanny, in Jamaica Plain, told Matahari that her employer became angry when she asked for overtime pay, and fired her soon after.

Another in Dorchester reported caring for four children and being asked to do laundry and clean her employer’s house, without a pay increase. When she asked for overtime pay, she too was fired, Matahari said, and her employer refused to file withholding taxes on her behalf.

In Cambridge, one nanny said she was earning $11 an hour — $1 over the $10 minimum wage that went into effect Jan. 1 — but worked 50-hour weeks. She should have earned $16.50 for each of the 10 hours per week beyond 40, Matahari advocates said.

When she asked her employer for a raise, the Cambridge nanny said, her hours were cut to 45, at a fixed rate of $500 a week, which also did not account for overtime.

While many families pay their workers fairly, and some generously, said Julia Beebe, Matahari’s lead organizer, “There are some in places like Brookline or Newton where workers are getting $4.44, which is fairly frightening.”

The survey was conducted with workers in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Nepali.

The challenges facing domestic workers and nannies in Massachusetts came to light over the last year, with the adoption of the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, which requires a written contract between employer and employee. It also extends protections such as the right to a day off, breaks for meals, and adequate sleeping quarters for live-in help.

But the nanny survey also found nearly 100 percent of in-home child care workers said they need paid sick time. The state Earned Sick Time law that took effect last year does not cover nannies who work alone in private homes. While they are allowed to take an unpaid day if they are sick, nannies said it’s a hardship to go without pay.

One in Newton said she went 17 years without taking a sick day. And if her own children got sick, she would have to hire a baby sitter to care for them.

“The reality of a nanny’s work is that when the children you care for get sick, you often get sick as well,’’ the nanny told Matahari.

Beth Healy can be reached at beth.healy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth.

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