What Has New York City Learned From Its Division of Paid Care?
Over the past five years, a range of new labor rules have impacted home care workers in New York, including the minimum wage increase at the state level and the federal rule on wage and overtime protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act. These developments extend employment rights and protections for home care workers, including more than 200,000 workers in New York City—but only when accompanied by education and enforcement. Otherwise, workers may not know whether their rights are being upheld or how to file a complaint if they are not.
To support the employment rights of home care workers, along with the rights of child care and other domestic workers who face similar challenges, the New York City Council established the Paid Care Division in August 2016. Since it began operations in February 2017, this city office has:
- Created an intake and referral system to provide education, facilitate complaints, and refer paid care workers to further resources;
- Organized trainings, workshops, and large conferences (known as “convenings”);
- Partnered with community organizations to better reach workers;
- Convened a Paid Care Working Group made up of key stakeholders who help inform the activities of the Paid Care Division; and
- Conducted original research on workers’ needs and experiences to inform the Paid Care Division’s priorities.
Notably, the Paid Care Division is located within the Office of Labor Policy and Standards (OLPS), which has the authority to enforce New York City’s Paid Sick Leave Law and certain other municipal laws through investigations and fines. This authority strengthens the impact of the Paid Care Division’s actions with workers and employers. The OLPS and its Paid Care Division are located within the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs.
New York City’s Paid Care Division serves as a model for other cities who want to ensure that home care workers have a centralized resource to help them navigate the workforce system and their legal rights. (States might also be inspired to adopt a similar “public advocate” at the state level.)
To learn more about this model in New York City, PHI’s Allison Cook interviewed Liz Vladeck, Deputy Commissioner at the Office of Labor Policy and Standards and Artee Perumal, Paid Care Advocate at the Paid Care Division.
Allison Cook: What are the goals of the Paid Care Division?
Artee Perumal: The Paid Care Division is meant to be a one-stop-shop for paid care workers. It is a resource on all the current labor laws—but it also connects workers to community workshops, trainings, and English [as a second language] classes across the five boroughs. We also conduct original research. I also think one of the major goals is to bring a voice to workers—to show their needs and wants and why their work is important.
AC: What services did the Paid Care Division provide during the first year?
AP: We’re still learning a lot. In the past year, we’ve done over 120 events, meeting community members, and we’ve reached over 500 workers through our trainings, workshops, and convenings. Many of these events were in partnership with worker-organizers or high-road employers. And we’ve done at least 250 paid care intakes, supporting workers who have contacted us through 311 [New York City’s informational hotline] or another method. We’ve also done more than 20 referrals, and launched 40 proactive investigations.
We have one great success story that happened recently. The worker who contacted us had been getting his wages deducted for taking sick time [to which he is legally entitled in NYC]. Within a month, we were able to get over $6,000 in wage restitution back to him. This was a person who was low-income and facing retaliation and, within a month, we got back his money.
Liz Vladeck: When possible, instead of just trying to resolve one worker’s complaint, we have pursued a general investigation. We’re dealing with a workforce that’s more vulnerable to exploitation and violations so we don’t want to put anybody in the spotlight, to make them a martyr.
AC: What are some of the themes that have stood out in your work?
AP: The number one issue is wages and hours. Workers who come to us are not being paid minimum wage, and definitely not getting paid overtime – or benefits, sick leave, or vacation time. And then there’s a lot of discrimination. It’s really a wide array of problems, but the most consistent are wages and hours—those are the priority issues for workers. Their priority is to feed themselves and their families.
AC: What achievements are you most proud of so far?
AP: I’m so proud of how many strong partnerships we’ve built in the past year—we’ve been able to reach so many workers that way. We really would not be as successful without those partnerships. And the fact that we’ve been able to build an effective system for providing information and materials; to give workshops for both workers and employers; and then to have these huge convenings where we’re able to hear from our partners and workers directly.
LV: We’re really focused on helping workers find their way to organizations that they can engage with on a deeper, longer-term basis. What that means is, especially where OLPS doesn’t have particular enforcement authority, we help workers connect to organizations that they can work with to get what they need.
AC: What are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced in the past year?
AP: In terms of our research, there’s not a lot of public data that looks at paid care workers the way we define them (as nannies, housecleaners, and home care workers), and within NYC—so we’re doing as much as we can with the information out there. We have also been able to conduct surveys and focus groups. We do have really great findings from the last year—but they’re based on a small sample size. That’s been one of the hardest things.
And then, in the beginning, the challenge was getting trust. Trust with the workers. Trust with our partnerships—to let them know that we really mean it when we say we want to be a partner.
LV: A few other structural challenges, too. The presidential election completely changed the landscape around this work. This is a division focused on women, immigrants, and people of color—and what we’ve seen both at the policy level and the level of rhetoric over the past 13 to 14 months has really been devastating. It’s not only been incredibly destructive for individual workers and worker communities, but it has forced all our partners who are leaders in this work to completely shift their agendas.
AC: What are your goals for the future?
AP: In the first year, we were setting up shop. I think we’re coming to a place, now, where we can take a moment and decide what we’re doing next. I’m the daughter of a domestic worker, and I brought my mom to the first convening. She’s been in the field for over 30 years and is still working when she can. And she looked at all the services and she was like, “Wow, I wish this was available 10 or 15 years ago. It’s so amazing that you have all these city government folks coming into the room in front of workers giving testament to them. Showing them that they want to be here for them.” As this work continues, I’d like to see us reaching not just a small pocket of workers, but having an impact city-wide.
We’re also hoping in the future to offer more robust trainings and supports, not just to workers but to employers as well. We’ve partnered with Hand in Hand and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice to educate consumer-employers. We are also planning to release a set of “model standards” that both workers and employers can follow. We’re hoping to expand this work in the future.
LV: I also think our work will start to specialize, too. We will start to identify campaigns, legislation, and other opportunities—maybe following the lead of a partner or in collaboration— that are more carefully tailored to achieving broader social changes. For us, this year has been about figuring out concrete initiatives where our involvement could really make a contribution.
AC: The Paid Care Division provides a model that other cities and even states could follow. What advice would you have for advocates trying to implement something similar?
AP: We really have a multi-disciplinary model. We have people taking the time to do the research and policy, to do enforcement, and take referrals—those are the layers that makes this division strong. Clearly, you also need the funding for it.
LV: I think that the most critical thing for folks who are going to pursue something like this in their locality is that they can’t try to reinvent the wheel. There’s a lot of great folks around the country that have been doing really great work for a long time and they haven’t cracked this because this is a real tough one—not because they don’t know what they’re doing. So, I think what a Paid Care Division looks like in any particular jurisdiction is going to depend who’s already there doing work. If you start by trying to build relationships, you’ll learn how much value you can bring to the table.