Filipina domestic worker demands wages from former millionaire employer
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, October 29, 2014
CONTACT: Leah Obias, Damayan, (212) 564-6057, firstname.lastname@example.org; Yari Osorio, Justice First, 917-533-4649, JusticeFirstNYC@gmail.com
Filipina Domestic Worker Demands Wages From Millionaire Employers
Marichu De Sesto, Domestic Workers and Supporters Hand-deliver Demand Letter to Employer
Damayan and Justice First Rally for Worker Marichu De Sesto
New York, NY- Following the delivery of a formal demand letter, Filipina domestic worker Marichu De Sesto spoke out at a rally Wednesday about her years of unpaid overtime and abrupt termination after requesting time off for medical reasons.The rally, planned by Damayan, a grassroots organization for the rights of low-wage Filipino migrant workers, and Justice First, a new workers’ rights organization, marks the beginning of a campaign against Marichu’s millionaire former employer, Elyse Slaine, to demand Marichu’s unpaid wages and to capture the public’s attention to raise awareness about the injustices committed against domestic workers everywhere.
At the rally, Marichu recounted her experiences working as a nanny and housekeeper for the Slaines for almost 15 years before being abruptly fired this past May for requesting time off for necessary medical appointments.
“She told me to pack my belongings and to be gone by the time she came back from the Hamptons, so I did, ” said Marichu. “It hurts me that after working for them for so long, it was so easy for her to let me go. She just doesn’t care—she has no heart at all.”
Marichu is not alone: according to a recent report by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), 25 percent of domestic workers who were fired from a domestic-work job cited that their termination was due to their request to take time off. After her termination, Marichu attempted to contact her former employer for unpaid wages, but those messages were left unreturned. In her quest to retrieve her wages, she found Damayan, an organization that fights against the exploitation of Filipino domestic workers.
As her only place of employment for almost 15 years, Marichu was unaware that she was entitled to overtime pay, despite working a demanding schedule of up to 12-14 hour shifts, five days a week. In addition to caring for Slaine’s only daughter, Marichu was responsible for the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and dog care in Slaine’s Park Avenue duplex throughout the year and in their Hamptons home in the summers. According to the same report by NDWA, 91 percent of workers who encountered problems with their working conditions did not complain because they were afraid they were going to lose their job.
Years of being overworked contributed to health problems Marichu began to experience in the last few years. Marichu explained, “The work was sometimes too much for me, I am diabetic and my back pain has progressed after working for so many years. But I worked through it until I physically could not anymore.” The NDWA likewise reports that 65 percent of domestic workers do not have health insurance and in most cases must pay for treatment out of their own pockets.
There are over 200,000 domestic workers in New York, about 15 percent of whom are Filipino. Marichu’s case is one of the many examples of employer abuse and wage theft that domestic workers face. This rally was the first call to action to the ensure Slaine complies with Marichu’s demands. While the rally is for Marichu, it also highlights the plight of all domestic workers.
“New York passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010, now is the time to enforce it. Lack of overtime pay and unpaid wages – wage theft – is unacceptable in the domestic work industry and all industries. Respect and dignity for domestic workers is essential in the workplace and employers must know that,” said Linda Oalican, the Overall Coordinator for Damayan.
Yari Osorio of Justice First shares a similar sentiment, “While we might be standing here with Marichu, we know that there are hundreds of Marichus throughout the city and even thousands around the world. Raising awareness about domestic workers’ issues is so important because we want inform and inspire others to fight back.”
Domestic workers from other local organizations, as well as protest marching band Rude Mechanical Orchestra, joined the rally in front of Slaine’s Park Avenue residence on Wednesday evening. At the rally, Marichu not only spoke about her grueling experience, but also the hope she has for the future: “I hope this all works out in good faith. I want to move forward from this and to have closure. I want to find a new job and start the next part of my life.”
Marichu also had a message for all domestic workers who might be in a similar situation: “Our lives as domestic workers may differ in some ways but these lessons are universal: First, love yourself more than your employers! Your well-being must be a priority over theirs. As domestic workers, we are more vulnerable and helpless than them. Second, actively look for and establish your support system. Some organizations, like Damayan and Justice First, help to address various needs of workers like us, of whatever status, from the Philippines and other countries. Let us join and be in close contact with these organizations.”
This campaign is co-sponsored by Damayan Migrant Workers Association and Justice First and endorsed by the following organizations (list in formation): National Domestic Workers Alliance, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Adhikaar for Human Rights, DRUM-South Asian Organizing Center, CASA de Maryland.
For more info about Justice First: justicefirst.org