Sandra Rosales’s voice evokes an affectionate hint as she recalls the notes she received from the two girls she cared for in Brooklyn. “If I were to describe it to you in one word, it would be loving,” one of her nanny complaints, now 9, wrote to Mrs. Rosales last year. “Thanks for encouraging me to be brave.”
Mrs. Rosales spent six years with them, working 10 hours a day and five days a week. They were family. Until they were.
When Mrs. Rosales, 54, received Covid in December 2020, the family she worked for told her she should not be paid while she was ill.
There were a few clicks for him that month, when he lay in his Queens apartment with a fever that had risen to 105 degrees. “I love these kids,” he said. But, he added, “when this situation happened, I thought, ‘I’m not part of this family.’
The epidemic has torn the SIMs of a child care sector that have long been exposed. Caregivers faced new risks to their safety and had little to protect them. Many are frustrated with the state of their work – shaped by a culture that experts say devalues housework because it is primarily done by women of color – and seeks secure jobs and higher wages.
According to unpublished data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of child care has shrunk, rising from 9 million people at the end of 2021 to 913,000 by the end of 2019, classifying themselves as child care workers. In childcare centers, low wages and fatigue were the top reasons employers lost staff. As of January, more than half of the country’s households reported problems finding childcare, and since 2019 the sector’s job postings have actually increased by 8 percent.
Like many other traditionally low-wage workers, some childcare workers have increased their wages and benefits as a result of labor shortages. The average hourly wage for child care workers in 2021 was $ 13.22, compared to $ 11.65 in 2019 and $ 12.24 in 2020.
But in order to sustain the momentary victory they have seen, workers are finding ways to organize.
For families who have always struggled to find care and afford it, last year’s shortage of workers in the industry and the lack of care center openings added to the challenge, forcing many parents – especially mothers – to quit their jobs to look after their children.
Domestic workers fell ill, and few had healthcare or sick leave. If they are laid off, they often do not get the benefits of unemployment. Most estimates say that 90 percent of nanny books nationwide are paid for.
Emily Dills, founder of the Seattle Nanny Network, said: “It simply came to our notice then. It’s just a mess. “
From the crisis came scattered bright spots for caregivers and families dependent on their help. A number of nanny organizations, including Noah’s Adventure Nanis and Nanis, who have worked together for thousands of days – reported that average wages had risen to ড 10 an hour before the epidemic, a spike they blamed on tightening labor supplies, some workers said. Offers for payroll closures and retirement plans are also on the rise.
Homework Solutions, one of the largest domestic workers’ payroll, says it has almost doubled its share by contacting families willing to pay for their nanny books, allowing nannies to be eligible for unemployment benefits. The last two years have prompted families to provide more flexible childcare arrangements, such as nanny shares, which companies often call higher wages and more formal employment arrangements.
But in the age of distant work child care becomes more thorny, telecommuting parents sometimes disrupt routines and try to discipline children. Mrs. Rosales, for example, said that she sees children eating yogurt in the afternoon instead of sweets so that they do not have trouble sleeping. But when they ran to their parents, they were given occasional ice cream, he said.
Home Caregiver shares accounts of Aya, R / Aya, Employers’ Micromanagement on Reddit Forum. In interviews, some nurses said they were reprimanded for failing to prevent a child from preventing their parents from attending a zoom meeting.
And some say their efforts to call for higher wages and better conditions have been taken up by the idea that caring should be a “labor of love”, driven by emotional currency.
“I have to remind myself: ‘Don’t get too emotional,'” said Stephanie Felzenberg, a New Jersey nanny who lost her job early in the epidemic, in part because her parents hired her to start work from home. “Not being criticized for raising for the family.”
Some caregivers hoped the epidemic would force them to make a calculation on the actual cost of their work, as maternal unemployment rates for children and infants nearly doubled in 2020. Instead, most have noticed that the work has become more uncertain And although wages seem to be rising, caregivers say they are not all reaping the benefits. Spread unevenly, decades of meager wages and profits from poor treatment are barely enough, workers say.
“It’s 10 steps back and a few steps forward,” said Stacey Koen, executive director of Hand in Hand, a national network of domestic employers.
The rise of the sector over the past two years has inspired many domestic and child care workers – who were isolated from each other even before the epidemic – to find ways to organize collectively.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance has doubled the number of people involved in its chapters and initiatives and distributed $ 30 million in emergency cash payments to workers. Family child care workers, who act as licensees, are also organized: about 40,000 of them won their union in California in 2020 and then their first contract in 2021, a joint effort of AFSCME / UDW and the Service Employees International Union, local 99 and 521. The contract includes an average salary increase of 15 percent.
Another bright spot, child care providers say, is the increase in resources supporting unconventional care systems. In late 2020, in Seattle, Mrs. Dills’ organization, Nanny heard from dozens of families interested in sharing, so her team developed a nanny-sharing tool kit to avoid late payments and to use direct deposits to adjust a family. She will provide personal protective equipment including tips. The organization’s Facebook group for families who want to share care has tripled to include 3,500 people during the epidemic.
When families share child care, Mrs. Dills adds, they usually pay more than their income. Some families have reconsidered the agreement so that their children can take care of their own children.
Surrounding agencies have also expanded, creating formal connections among employees who previously only crossed paths in school pickups. The Carol Gardens Nanny Association grew from 300 to 5,000 domestic workers during the epidemic and expanded from its Brooklyn base to include Long Island and New Jersey.
Mrs. Rosales joined the group a few years ago, after meeting its founder on the street near her employer’s home. Mrs Rosales is undecided but decided that organizing other domestic workers was worth the risk, she said, especially after she had been sick for weeks without pay, feeling guilty that she could not send checks to her own son and daughter’s home in Guatemala.
On Wednesday evening, a group of New York nannies, including Mrs. Rosales, met with local policymakers and employers in Zoom to plan a few months, including pressuring more New York families to use the work contract.
“Your kids are staring at you,” Tatiana Bezer, an organizer, looks at the parents. “They will be good people if they see that you treat people with respect.”