An Employer Speaks About Why She Cares About the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights - Women's Foundation California
Carolyn Ji Jong Goossen (center) and her two children

by Carolyn Ji Jong Goossen, Member of Hand in Hand, San Francisco, CA

Three months after my second child was born, I began preparing to go back to work three days a week. When I couldn’t find a nearby day care center that had a part-time program, I decided to look for a nanny.

As I started to interview people, I had several questions. Do I trust this person to care for my child? What can we afford to pay? Does the schedule work for both of us?

I also started to ask myself difficult questions about myself. How can I be a good employer? How do I balance my obligations to my employee with my obligations to my family? And, is it possible for me to be a responsible employer even if I can’t afford to pay the salary I know my employee deserves?

Soon after I began my search, I met through an acquaintance a soft-spoken Spanish-speaking woman named Mirian. I was drawn to her warmth, calm demeanor and experience. She had already raised her three children in Guatemala, and since moving to the United States eight years ago, she had been doing house cleaning and nanny work.

She accepted the job and I continued to research how to create a positive work situation for her and for myself. Though I wished I could pay a higher hourly wage, I found other ways to make caring for my son into a good job. I included two paid sick days a month (for illness or medical appointments) as well as six paid days of vacation a year. Since she worked for us three days a week, this was the equivalent of two weeks paid vacation.

I also told her that she had the right to a 30-minute break every day while my son is sleeping. During that time she could relax and do what she liked, including eating, sleeping or watching television.

As we grew increasingly impressed by her work ethic, child caring skills and kindness, we added other small “bonuses” to the mix. When we have extra money, we give her petty cash during the week so that she can prepare food for herself and my son that she enjoys eating, and we give her Christmas and birthday bonuses as well as “in-kind” support such as books and CDs to help her improve her English, one of her own professional goals.

I also make sure to take the time to sit down to talk every few weeks. We have tea and talk about what’s going on in our lives, and also about what is working and what is not working in the work arrangement. More recently, we have been able to set up a nanny-share with another family twice a week. This way, she can make more money watching two children while still working out of our house.

Although I feel good about the benefits I am able to offer Mirian, I am still far from being an exceptional employer. I wish I could pay more and offer her full-time steady work so she didn’t have to continue cleaning so many houses on the side. I can’t do these things right now, but I feel that I have found a balance between my family’s needs and hers—she feels appreciated and respected and I am getting the help I need. Little by little, I am chipping away at becoming the kind of employer that I would want to have myself.

I support the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (text of the bill here: AB 241), because it wants to create fair and sustainable conditions for women to work with dignity and provide the best quality care to the families of their employers, as well as to their own families.

Right now, in California, nannies like Mirian are not guaranteed the right to meal and rest breaks.  I offer Mirian meal and rest breaks as well as paid days off because these are rights that I benefit from in my own work—and that all workers deserve—and because her happiness directly connects to the well-being of my child. But every domestic worker should enjoy those basic rights. These workers should not have to rely on the kindness of their employers for something so basic. In addition, the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights will provide clear guidelines that help employers like myself to be good employers.

I am filled with gratitude for the work that Mirian has done. Our son is happy and affectionate and our home is much less chaotic than it was before she arrived. As an expression of this gratitude, the least I can do is fight for domestic workers to be recognized as crucial members of the workforce who are major contributors to the education and development of our society’s children.

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