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Long Island couple accused of abusing domestic workers

May 17, 2007

Just another reason why domestic workers need a Bill of Rights. A Long Island couple has been charged with abusing, underpaying, and overworking two Indonesian domestic workers. From the NYTimes:

Police and federal immigration agents developed the case against the couple after one of the women, identified only as “Samirah” in court papers, was seen wandering near a Dunkin’ Donuts shop in Syosset on Sunday morning, wearing only pants and wrapped in a towel. Her face was bruised, and when shop employees tried to communicate with her, she made gestures of slapping herself and uttering what sounded to them like the word “master,” prosecutors said.

The police took Samirah to Nassau University Medical Center, where, with the help of an Indonesian translator, she told them that she and a second woman, identified in papers only as “Nona,” were forced by the Sabhnanis to work long hours, given little food, forced to sleep on mats on the floor, kept hidden when company came, threatened with violence, and in Samirah’s case, frequently beaten by Mrs. Sabhnani.

Nice. So now I want the mainstream feminists to pay close attention: there are over 200,000 domestic workers in the NY metro-area – I don’t even know what the numbers look like for the whole country. They are almost exclusively immigrant women of color. And they are not covered by labor laws. Talk about not valuing women’s work.

If we could pull our attention away from the pressing opt-out myth discussion for just a second and wonder who takes the place of these middle- and upper-class parents when they “opt” to go back to work? Where are the rallying cries from the feminists about double-standards, frighteningly low wages for care work (women’s work), immigrant domestic workers being blackmailed by their employers because they don’t have papers?

Plans are under way for a blog for domestic workers day on Tuesday, June 5th. Posts can range from personal stories to theory to political essays or any combination – the idea is to get the stories and issues around this important topic out of the domestic closet and into the public. These women have raised countless numbers of children who are not biologically theirs; they take care of elderly people who might otherwise have to move out of their apartments and into nursing homes; they also clean apartments so that people can work their 9-5 jobs and come home to a beautiful space. They work hard, they support their own families – and ALL of us, whether we are domestic workers ourselves, have a relative who is, were raised by one, grew up in a house with a “cleaning lady,” have elderly grandparents with live-in help, or simply understand that taking care of children and cleaning is difficult and thankless work, we are ALL connected to this issue in some way. Please consider joining me in this important project and check back into saltyfemme soon for updates – by next week, I’ll have pages for linking with the text of the Bill of Rights and information about the Town Hall event on June 7th at Judson Memorial Church here in NYC.

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5 comments

  1. way to go, saltyfemme! I look forward to reading other fabulous feminist-with-race/class-analysis blog posts about this critical issue that indeed affects and connects us all.

    a few people heard a piece about this on WNYC NPR, but I can’t find it online. Anyone?


  2. […] 2007 at 12:29 pm | In furriners, poverty, breaking news, Blogroll | salty femme is organizing a Blog for Domestic Workers Day on Tuesday, June 5. From the announcement: Plans are under way for a blog for domestic workers day […]


  3. […] Domestic workers number over 200,000 in the New York tri-state area alone. They work tirelessly for low pay and little respect, yet they enable about 400,000 middle- and upper-class folks to go to work every day. They make this city run, yet they have received little recognition for this work. It is no coincidence that most domestic workers are immigrant women of color and do traditional women’s work. The time has come for the world, or at least New York City, to recognize and appreciate what a vital role domestic workers play. (more here) […]


  4. […] and I think this is a blogswarm and not a carnival, but Blog for Domestic Workers Day is June […]


  5. It’s time that these people get treated with respect, they work the hardest jobs in the country in order so that we, lazy,selfish, arrogant Americans can sit back and watch TV and go out to multimillion Wall Street jobs.

    People should be treated with compassion and understanding, no matter who they are



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