'The help' could use your help too

For a domestic worker, someone else's home becomes the office.

"The home — our private space — becomes a workplace for another individual," said Theodore. "That blurring of the boundary becomes confusing for people. Oftentimes employers behave very badly."

The laws and policies that protect other workers often don't apply to domestic workers.

Caregivers for the elderly don't have to be paid minimum wage. Live-in workers are excluded from overtime protections. Domestic workers rarely have health insurance. Or guaranteed breaks. Or anything in writing.

They rarely get raises, even as their tasks and hours expand. They're often abused verbally, sometimes physically. They work without the company or solidarity of colleagues.

And if they complain? They rarely do. They're afraid they'll be fired.

This kind of work — the isolated, supposedly menial tasks of taking care of others and a home — was once called women's work. It's still women's work, only now it's done by women — mostly women of color and mostly immigrants — who are struggling to keep their families afloat while keeping someone else's afloat too.

Theodore wrote the report with Linda Burnham of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, an organization that is fighting for laws to better protect the workers who take care of Grandma, the kids and the kitchen.

"What the Domestic Workers Alliance will say," he said, "is, 'Let's get this straightened out. No judgment. Let's just get this right.'"

It won't get right immediately. Until it does, if you hire a caretaker, a nanny or a housecleaner, ask yourself: Am I a good employer?

mschmich@tribune.com

CHICAGO

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