How We Support the People Who Support Us

In mid-March, we had difficult decisions to make.

The COVID-19 will have a deep economic impact on our family’s income, as my husband’s small business is hit hard.  He is doing everything he can—including dramatically reducing his own compensation—to avoid laying off staff with their own needs and families.

So we downloaded a budget template to make a family budget. Savings! No need to spend money on eating out, dry cleaners or haircuts.

Then we came to the line “housecleaning” and realized that our house cleaner will not be available to work as she stays at home to keep her family safe and help reduce the spread of the virus. Do we continue to pay her?

It was a test of our values as much as our budget.

I have employed child care workers and housekeepers at different times during my adult life. Their contribution to my family and work life has been invaluable. Child care workers took care of my children so I could work outside the home while my husband managed his business. 

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Last year, when Philadelphia introduced a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, I joined Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network to support passage of this legislation. Pennsylvania Domestic Workers Alliance (PDWA) organized the inspiring women-worker led campaign.  Through their efforts, I bore witness to the stories of many domestic workers—a largely women of color workforce—in our city who were experiencing instability, low wages and abuse. 

The Bill provides basic labor standards such as the right to a meal and rest breaks and requires written contracts to outline job responsibilities and payment schedules. It will also create a benefits program so workers can take paid time off if they are sick or want to take vacation with pay. For too long, domestic workers have not been treated as professional workers. 

So when the COVID-19 crisis hit, it was clear to my husband and me that domestic work deserves dignity and respect and that continuing to pay the house cleaner we employ was the right thing to do.

She is our loyal employee who we trust to be in our home, to take care of us, and who takes three buses in each direction to get here. Her husband’s restaurant job evaporated, and they have a family of their own to support. We concluded that the burden to pay for her services at a time of our own greatly reduced income will be far less than the catastrophe it could spark in her life—especially if her other employers do not pay her.

I realize that everyone’s circumstances are different, but this is a time for all of us to do what we can to support the people and communities around us. Unfortunately, our federal government has not yet created protections for our nation’s domestic workforce. Just as I supported the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, I will also advocate for protections and relief for our country’s domestic workers.

Until we win this safety net for all workers, I urge you to continue to pay your housekeeper or caregiver, to the degree that you can and to maintain communication out of respect for the work. I encourage people to reach out to their own networks and implore others to do the same. 

Hand in Hand has created a Coronavirus Employer Pledge for people who hire workers in their homes to commit to paying them through the crisis. Hundreds of people have already signed to pledge to pay, and Hand in Hand is working to build a national movement of employers who care for the workers who care for us. 

Hand in Hand has also developed resources and tools for domestic employers to understand the best practices of working with nannies, house cleaners and home care workers, to keep all of us safe during this crisis. They offer tips on engaging in difficult conversations and understanding some of the policies that help employers to make their home a fair and safe workplace. 

Not everyone can continue to pay the worker they employ. My husband and I decided we would. When we get through this, we’ll be proud that we did, and we will have demonstrated to ourselves and the people in our home who we are and what we stand for.

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Marjorie Scharf is a Hand in Hand member who lives outside of Philadelphia. Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network is an organization of domestic employers who believe dignified working conditions benefit both workers & employers.