Home News NY Times Runs Piece About How Pandemic is Hurting Illegal Houseworkers

NY Times Runs Piece About How Pandemic is Hurting Illegal Houseworkers

by Paul Goldberg

While the coronavirus pandemic has led to skyrocketing unemployment claims, the NY Times has run a piece on how the virus has also affected illegal workers.

From the NY Times

Late last week, Maria Zamorano, 50, picked up her cellphone to check her messages. “Hi, plz cancel our cleaning for tomorrow,” said one. “Maria, I’m going to have to cancel tomorrow’s cleaning. Thank you,” said another.

The housekeeper had received similar texts all week, every one of them a cancellation from homeowners on whom she depends to make a living — swabbing their toilets, vacuuming their carpets and shining their floors.

“I’ll go crazy with despair,” said Zamorano, just before another text popped up on the screen. “Oh my God, she canceled, too,” she said, glaring at the device in a pink leather wallet that matched her pink nails. That message summed up the uncertain outlook: “Once the country is healthy from the virus, we can reschedule. Please be safe.”

Household help, often performed by unauthorized immigrants like Zamorano, has become a fixture of American homes. In a thriving economy, even middle-class families have been able to hand off their mops, brooms and lawn mowers to low-paid workers from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and other countries. With reliable caregivers at home, many dual-income couples have raised children while building high-powered careers.

The coronavirus crisis is compelling many families to reassess. Concerns about the safety of an outsider entering their homes coupled with financial instability have prompted even the well-heeled to dispense with their help, and severance payments are a rarity.

Unlike their employers, unauthorized workers cannot collect unemployment or benefit from a government bailout. They are part of the bustling informal economy, typically paid cash and off the books for the essential work they do. Without paid sick leave, remote work capability and access to jobs, they become uniquely vulnerable.

From New York to Los Angeles, families have handled their help in different ways as they hunker down in their homes. Some have decided they cannot live without their help; a few feel committed to paying them while asking them not to come to work and still others have simply told workers to stop coming.

When Mayra Brito was hired in Austin, Texas, as a nanny and children’s Spanish teacher for two families — one middle-class, with four children, the other a wealthy couple who both work in technology — her employers had meticulously called each one of her references. They asked to meet in person and one family took her on an informal driving test. It felt like applying for a job at a company. But there were none of those formalities last week, she said, when both families told her to stay home indefinitely without pay because of the threat of COVID-19.

Brito had worked for one of the families for two years, the other for six months. In letting her go without confirming if or when she might have a job again, one set of parents said they were concerned about the health of their youngest child, a 9-month-old baby. The other said they wanted to keep the children’s aging grandparents who live with them safe.

“I understand their reasons,” Brito said, “But what I don’t understand is why they didn’t say, ‘We’re going to pay you at least half while you’re at home because we’re not letting you work.’”

Read more here. 

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