DENVER – On Friday, Towards Justice and the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) submitted comments to the Department of State calling on the agency to regulate the au pair program like a work program and ensure that au pairs have access to justice when their workplace rights are violated.
The comments explained that although the Department of State continues to call the au pair program a “cultural exchange” the agency has allowed it to morph into a non-immigrant work program that has not been authorized by Congress.
This change has led to widespread abuse of au pairs, some of which have been brought to light in lawsuits over the past decade, including a class-action lawsuit in which Towards Justice served as counsel to a class of over 90,000 au pairs alleging that program sponsor organizations colluded to suppress au pair wages. Beltran, et al v. Interexchange, Inc., Case 14-cv-03074-CMA (D. Colo.).
Multiple au pairs submitted comments attached to the Towards Justice and NDWA document, and described firings that left them on the streets, retaliatory threats of deportation, wage theft, long hours, and placement in homes with domestic violence.
These comments were submitted in response to the Department of State’s proposed update of the rules governing the au pair program. Although Towards Justice and NDWA recognized that the proposed rules would improve protections for au pairs from the status quo, they said those improvements failed to either bring the program in line with congressional intent to create a cultural exchange, or to appropriately regulate the existing work program.
The comments also alerted the Department of State to the ways in which denying au pairs employment rights will undermine protections for other childcare workers who compete with au pairs in the labor market.
“The Department of State has allowed the au pair program to become a band aid for our nation’s child care crisis, but proposes to exclude au pairs from basic employment protections,” said Towards Justice Policy Director Nina DiSalvo. “Instead, the agency places these vulnerable young workers in the hands of sponsor organizations that have no incentive to protect their interests. That makes no sense, and the agency should use this regulatory update as an opportunity to ensure that au pairs are protected by the same employment laws that protect all other workers.”
“Instead of a cultural exchange, the Department of State’s proposed rules would perpetuate a work program that not only denies au pairs any ability to enforce their workplace rights, but also undermines the employment rights of domestic childcare workers across our economy,” said National Domestic Workers Alliance Senior Employment Law Council & State Policy Director Rocio Avila.
She continued, “At NDWA, we see the consequences of au pairs’ lack of access to justice parallel that of domestic workers, which is why we’re fighting for federal workplace protections for domestic workers — protections we’ve already established in 11 states and three cities across the country. We urge the government to stop leaving these workers without recourse when their rights are violated.”