Au Pair Families Ask Beacon Hill For Help

au pairs state house massachusetts

(Suzanne Sausville/WBZ NewsRadio)

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Hundreds of families—with their au pairs in tow—gathered at the Massachusetts State House Wednesday to urge lawmakers to pass a pair of bills they say will ease their financial burdens following a change in state law.

The families take issue with a federal judge's ruling last month that says the state's Domestic Bill of Rights applies to au pairs, meaning they're entitled to the same minimum wage and other labor protections as other domestic workers in the Commonwealth.

Some who participate in the State Department-run program — which allows families to host young adults from foreign countries in their homes who in return provide them with child care — claim the ruling will put them in a bind.

Au pair parents told WBZ NewsRadio's Suzanne Sausville the ruling means their costs will go up thousands of dollars, making au pairs impossible for them to afford.

"Beyond just becoming a program for the super-rich, I think the greater fear is, it just goes away," Keli Callaghan, who has had five au pairs over the years, said. "Whether it's travel or experiences, it becomes harder to honor that if it becomes this extraordinarily expensive program."

One of the bills the au pair families rallied for would increase the tax deduction they can take for housing au pairs. Another, filed by Reps. Paul McMurty and Paul Donato, would let the families deduct the costs of lodging, food, and beverage from an au pair's pay in an amount not increasing 40 percent of the au pair's wages.

State House News Service reports that Massachusetts hosted 1,530 au pairs in 2018—it is the fifth most popular destination for au pairs—and that they typically work up to 45 hours a week on a weekly stipend of $195.75.

Callaghan said au pairs are not employees—they're members of the family.

"We continue to have relationships with every single one of them," Callaghan said. "On Mother's Day every year, I get five 'Happy Mother's Day' texts from my extended kids all over the world, and that is not something that an employer-employee relationship gives you."

Monique Tu Nguyen, Executive Director of the Matahari Women Workers' Center in Boston, said she opposes the two bills because au pairs might be on a cultural exchange, but they're also childcare workers.

"Any solution for the future that's sustainable has to exclude exploitation," she said. "That means bringing anybody that does child care up to minimum wage, at least."

Some au pairs are happy about the change, especially as it applies to pay.

"To have been an au pair in Massachusetts without getting paid the minimum wage has been a challenging experience," au pair Claudia Villamizar told State House News Service.

But some of the au pairs at the State House gathering said the program isn't about the money, but rather, about the experience.

"I've been able to meet so many people, so many cultures, and people from other countries," said May, an au pair from Brazil.

WBZ NewsRadio's Suzanne Sausville (@wbzSausville) reports

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