Gayle Kirshenbaum is a founding member of Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Association, a national network of employers of nannies, housecleaners and home attendants, our families and allies who are grounded in the conviction that dignified and respectful working conditions benefit worker and employer alike. Originally from Benton Harbor, Michigan, Gayle attended Camp Young Judaea - Midwest and Tel Yehudah in the 1980's and participated in Year Course 1984-85. In her February 23rd Huffington Post Blog, Gayle describes plans for Oscar parties around the county where "domestic employers will gather to honor the workers who care for their homes, children and elderly parents."
But this year, there will also be Oscar parties where The Help's Aibileen and Minny won't be the only domestic workers in starring roles.
These employers will take action on behalf of today's 2.5 million domestic workers as part of the #BeTheHelp Campaign, sponsored by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and supported by Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Association.
As a member of Hand in Hand, I believe that caring homes and just workplaces do, in fact, go hand in hand. On Oscar night, some employers in our network will join domestic workers to watch the awards. Others will host parties in their homes to call attention to the undervalued work that happens there every day.
When I went to see the The Help, based on the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett, I was appalled, like so many movie-goers, by the abuse and indignities endured by African-American women who worked in the homes of white families in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s.
But as a white woman who once employed a Jamaican woman as my son's part-time nanny -- one of the hundreds of thousands of mostly white domestic employers in New York City who rely on the labor of mostly immigrant women of color -- I was also struck by how little has changed for many workers.
While some families are good employers who establish mutually respectful relationships with the workers in their homes, many others exploit the fact that most labor laws fail to protect domestic workers.
I know of employers who, every day, come home hours late and fail to pay overtime; who refuse to offer paid sick time; who talk about their nanny as a "member of the family" but never as an employee owed paid vacation time.
Today, just as in Jackson, Mississippi 50 years ago, a domestic worker's wages and benefits are largely determined by employer values and whim.
That's why, along with the food and celebrity gossip at our parties, we'll also offer online petitions to support the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and the opportunity to send comments to the U.S. Department of Labor in support of federal labor protection for domestic workers.
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