Outsourcing the Family, Protecting Outsourced Workers

My first post last month introduced the concept of “Outsourcing the Family.”  Put simply, we outsource the family when we take specific, limited functions traditionally performed by a family member, have another do this work, and then reintegrate that work back into our family lives.  My current project focuses on the phenomenon of outsourcing motherhood.

In my earlier post on this topic, I observed that as currently practiced, the phenomenon of outsourcing motherhood has significant limitations, including the substandard working conditions of childcare providers.  Specifically, these working conditions raise many of the same concerns we have about outsourced workers more generally:  exploitation, low pay, long hours, and lack of a safety net.  According to a recent report and survey of domestic workers in New York City conducted by Domestic Workers United, 41% of domestic workers earn low wages, half of them work overtime, and 67% of them don’t receive overtime pay.  Of those surveyed, 33% have experienced verbal or physical abuse, and 1/3 of those facing abuse identified race or immigration status as a factor in the discrimination.  Ninety-five % of the respondents are people of color, and 93% are women.  Seventy-six % of them aren’t U.S. citizens.

Historically, domestic workers have been excluded from coverage in state and federal laws protecting workers.  The law could do much to mitigate the pitfalls of outsourcing childcare by better protecting these workers.  Here’s an example:  Last summer, the New York state took promising new steps by passing the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.  The statute extends a number of protections to domestic workers, including most childcare providers:  It requires overtime pay after 40 hours of live-out work and 44 hours of live-in work a week, entitles the worker to at least one day of rest each week, gives the worker a right to three days off with pay after one year of service, gives domestic workers protection under the workers’ compensation laws, and extends protection against workplace discrimination, and sexual or verbal harassment based on gender, race, religion, or national origin.

There have been, of course, criticisms of the law and its effects – arguments that it goes too far, or doesn’t go far enough.  As Vivian Berger put it in her August 2010 piece for the National Law Journal, “nannies and their cohorts have finally received a proverbial ‘half loaf’ of workplace protections in New York.”  Still, this law takes a significant step toward diminishing one serious drawback of outsourcing childcare, helping to make the practice more beneficial for American families and workers, with fewer downsides.  Will this movement take root and flourish elsewhere?  Stay tuned . . .

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1 Response

  1. Cf says:

    An interesting additional consideration is a family’s cost benefit analysis of these “protections”. Many families who “outsource motherhood” are not the super rich, rather they are hard working two income families trying to make ends meet. While the protections offered are obviously needed in many situations, and would benefit the Domestic Worker in “abusive”, “injured” or “overworked” scenarios, those workers who ARE treated fairly would not necessarily see an added benefit (their pay would not go up). However, the COST of these protections to the middle income families, where both spouses work (voluntarily OR based on financial needs), will increase significantly. With this cost increase, it may be financially impossible for one parent in the family to work (cost of Domestic Worker > income from work). In these situations, the effect of the new regulations protecting domestic workers would actual limit families/ men/ women/ choices to work. Not only would this eliminate potential Domestic Worker jobs, it would also shape when and if both parents could work. Could these protections then actually force one parent of a middle income family to stay at home based on the family’s inability to afford the higher cost of childcare? Do the benefits to the domestic workers outweigh the possibility of restricting a mother’s desire to go back to work after children? Does this fall into the category of the law shaping cultural values- even if unintended?