Earlier this year, 100,000 au pairs and our allies at the organization Towards Justice celebrated a great victory: they reached a $65.5 million dollar agreement with 15 companies authorized to recruit au pairs. They were accused of maintaining artificially low wages and denying overtime pay to workers under the program.
Barbara Reyna, member of the Migrant Defense Committee and former participant of the au pair program, told us her perspective on this lawsuit.
What’s the significance of this lawsuit?
As au pairs, we face difficult moments; it is not easy to make the investment to get into the program. Being an au pair is more than just fun, like sponsor agencies paint it out to be; it implies many responsibilities and rights. But today after years of injustice we have managed to sow doubt about how this program works. Raising your voice is our only defense. Today I feel fortunate to know that there are more compañeras struggling together in this process.
What would you say is the biggest myth about the au pair program?
It's simple: sponsoring agencies advertise the programs to the university students as if it were a cultural exchange -- full of fun and travel with a fair salary. But they don’t explain what our rights or your responsibilities are as au pairs when taking care of children. They also sell a false image to host families: that they will have someone who will do housework while providing her with food, a place to stay and study without establishing real wages. As with other visas, the au pair program requires government oversight to monitor the sponsoring agencies that hire young people from across the world every year.
Why is it important for workers to rise up against injustices?
We are living in an era in which our voice is being heard. We have to think that our experiences can generate changes for others. Changes are generated by facing our fears and speaking out. We are not alone.
What impact do you think this demand will have?
While I know that changes won’t happen from one day to the next, I believe that the more than 100,000 au pairs in this class action -- and those to come -- will put the pressure on little by little to generate real changes in the recruitment process and workplace practices that include fair salaries and benefits. Do not be afraid to speak up -- we are generating changes that we deserve as workers.