Hey, Rich Assholes: Are You Shorting Your Nanny? Tell It to the Judge

Categories: Immigration
Don't even think about shorting her...
The cost of living for the Meg Whitmans of the world might become much more expensive. California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) announced today that he is introducing legislation to improve the lives of domestic workers in the state.

The bill, which is being cosponsored by V. Manuel Perez (D-Coachella), proposes regulating the wages, hours, and working conditions of the mostly underground workforce who cook, clean, and help raise the children of thousands of Californians. It even requires that employers pay -- gasp -- overtime.

And if you decide that you can no longer afford your nanny under the new regulations, then you have to give him or her 21 days notice before firing him or her.

The bill is modeled after New York legislation, which went into effect last November.

The California bill will include provisions for designated meal and rest periods for domestic workers, as well as minimum wage, annual pay increases, paid vacation, and paid sick days -- all of which they currently don't get. And live-in nannies will get to sleep comfortably like the rest of the family; the new bill mandates proper living conditions for them.

Essentially, it formalizes an industry that truly keeps our society afloat. Ammiano's spokesman Quentin Mecke says that if the bill passes, there would be a huge public education campaign so employers know the new rules before they get hit with fines.

Meg Whitman had to pay $5,500 in back wages to her former housekeeper, whom she fired after learning she was undocumented.The housekeeper, Nicki Santillan, put the spotlight on Whitman's immigration policies during her campaign for governor when she retained high-powered attorney Gloria Allred and went public saying she was unfairly fired without proper wages.

"Regardless of the politics around that," Mecke says, "I think it's a symbol of exactly what can happen when there's no regulation. Regardless of who you believe, there was a clear misunderstanding about the rights and the money that was owed."  

This is the state's latest attempt to extend workers' rights to employees who are typically getting paid under the table. Often, these workers are undocumented immigrants. Last year, California legislators passed the nation's first farmworkers' rights bill to mandate overtime pay for agriculture workers, who've long been exempt from state labor laws concerning overtime. But former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill, saying it would be burdensome to the agriculture industry, which had argued that it would increase their labor costs by 10 percent.

We'll see if such a bill will have any better luck getting past Gov. Jerry Brown. As Whitman learned, paying domestic workers fair wages is probably cheaper than paying their lawyer's fees.  

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There’s a lot in the article I can agree with, but also a lot which is at best wrong, and at worst, ignorant and cynical – starting with the title naming household employers as “rich assholes”. Let’s begin with that…

I operate a Nanny Placement Agency in Ohio - and agencies have clients fortunate enough that for them “money is no object” and who can afford to pay whatever they want in wages to their household help (and presumably these are the “rich assholes” to whom the article refers)…

However, the majority of our clients (around 65%) are comprised of two working professionals with a household income of between $250,000 and $400,000 a year. Well off? Yes, “Rich Assholes”? Hardly. These parents work a combined 85 to 100 hours a week or more and support a significant mortgage, 5 figure private school tuitions, and all of the accoutrements that go along with their ‘American Dream’ lifestyle – including $30,000 - $50,000 or more in private child care.

The fact is that minimum wage in greater California is $8.00/hour (the independent nation of the City of San Francisco being an anomaly) and the Federal Minimum Wage is $7.25/hour.

Does anyone doubt that the vast majority of household employees earn at least minimum wage?

Example, a nanny working 50 hours a week and being paid just $399/wk is being compensated at the rate of:

$ 7.255/hr regular wages for the first 40 hours$10.882/hr overtime wages for the 10 overtime hours

That’s “legal” under federal law and federal Dep’t. of Labor regulations.

Of course there are exceptions – especially among those households who hire immigrant workers who do not have the English language skills, education or legal work status to apply for and be hired for most legal work. But, again, the vast majority of household employers pay wages above the minimum wage requirements.

As a placement agency we have never, in twenty years, had a care provider register with us who would accept any position that paid only minimum wage, and I suspect that all of you reading this would agree it simply doesn’t happen through agencies.

But what about those who accept positions without benefit of an agency placement? And households who hire who hire on their own through word-of-mouth, Craigslist ads and other resources? Again, I would suggest that while there are exceptions (which are probably more than anecdotal but less than epidemic in numbers) most household employees are paid wages that meet the minimum wage requirements.

Which takes us to CA Welfare Commission Order 15-86:

If federal and state laws and regulations already exist to set the standards for hours and wages, what’s the purpose of this California legislation?

It’s politics.

If legislators were serious about actually protecting workers from exploitation and preventing employers from hiring illegals, they would spend taxpayer money on enforcement of existing laws, not waste our time with legislation that that looks good on paper but does nothing in practical terms to improve anyone’s situation.

But there’s more wrong with this type of legislation than meets the eye.

It was proposed in Massachusetts that Household Employment Agencies be so regulated and controlled, that a family would have to be crazy to use the services of a professional agency to find and hire a household employer. While the aim of the legislation was to promote compliance with the law, the effect would have been to drive families and care providers away from privately run agencies (who are in the best position to educate employers and employees of the laws and guide them on compliance issues).

The message I have for legislators and labor activists (my self among them) is this: Be careful what you wish for.


1- Since California is an “at-will” state, then why should one group of employees have rights that others don’t have.2- Did Assemblyman Tom Ammiano even read Welfare Commission Order 15-86? The current law is not quite as good as the new one, but I guess his ego needs to be stroked since just modifying the current law won’t get his name on top. But I guess California is so rich that it can afford to overpay their government leaders to pass new laws when a simple modification of the current law would work. 3- Will this new law enable California to collect taxes from all of the underground workers? 4- Will the law finally change the misperception by the average Californian that all underground workers are all poor? Does anybody realize that most Nannies earn between $30,000 and $40,000 per year tax free? Many teachers don’t get that much, which could be why so many teachers are trying to land jobs as Nannies. Then add housekeepers that average between $40,000 and $50,000 tax free and of course Gardeners and Handymen that earn over $50,000 tax free.Seeing mainstream workers paying taxes to support the needs of the underground workers doesn’t seem to be fair, but what really bothers me is to pay a salary to an Assemblymen that is so ill informed.


Wage Order 15 in California already does everything this proposed law states it will do. Nannies, cooks and housekeepers earn overtime, have paid sick time in San Francisco, are and are paid more than minimum wage. Labor Laws have been enforced in California to protect the so called" underground domestic worker" for many years. They are also enforced.with heavy penalties when not followed by employers who find themselves served by the Ca Labor Board. And YES.. nannies already earn overtime.

Meg Whitman paid a very large fee to a domestic agency to screen housekeeper/nannies for legal eligability to work in the United States. She also paid an hourly wage that was almost 3 times the minimum wage.

Underground workers. Nannies... need to pay taxes like everyone else.. especially when they earn $23 an hour and overtime for hours worked over 40 per week.

Jessica Lehman
Jessica Lehman

I'm excited that the domestic workers' bill of rights has been introduced! As an employer and person with a disability who hires personal care attendants, I know that justice for domestic workers is connected to justice for people with disabilities and for all of us. People with disabilities and all employers can benefit tremendously from clear standards and regulations -- and from having workers who have rights and know them. Caring homes and just workplaces go hand in hand. --Jessica Lehman, member of Hand in Hand: the Domestic Employers Association.


Many of my friends are nannies and their wages vary based on their locations. I will admit I may get a little envious of their position when I hear they spent the day visiting museums and going to the beach. However, as much fun as it could be, it's also very demanding and I'm not sure if I would want the responsibility of someone else's child on my hands.

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