February 12, 2007

I Don't Know and I Don't Care

by PG

Is the problem in enforcement of labor law ignorance or indifference? One question I forgot to ask Allyson Ho, a former Bush administration assistant who was speaking in New York about immigration reform today, is whether the government has any plans to increase people's awareness (and hopefully, attendant sense of guilt/ fear) about the laws regarding employment, particularly in reporting that one is paying people for work and ensuring that those people are legally permitted to work.

When Ted Frank recently mentioned his difficulty getting good help, I was -- perhaps naively -- shocked by the idea that educated people could be unaware of whether they were following the law with regard to household employees. My experience has been either in Texas, where I futilely scold my parents for paying cash for their summer lawnmowing and weekly maid; or in New York, where I find a housecleaner to help with subletter wreckage by Googling, and figure that part of the $30+/ hour on my credit card bill goes to Social Security. When I, like Ted, lived in Northern Virginia, my roommate arranged the housecleaners who came by a few times a year, and given her government employment and general straight-arrowness -- and the fact that we paid by check -- I assumed that they too were reasonably by the books.

Judging mostly by my n=1 of a popular radio station, there seems to be a big advertising campaign in Britain to inform the populace about the perils of hiring undocumented workers, with the common tagline being, "If you employ illegal migrant workers you're as illegal as they are." That the folks across the pond also see this problem particularly among domestics is highlighted by the phrase's use on the website for the Cleaning and Support Services Association. Certainly the term "employ" has connotations that imply one ought to be filling out forms, in a way that the services for which we often pay cash don't. One of my friends likes to tell a story about his first winter in Alabama, when it snowed to the point that he and his brother pulled out the family snowblower (carried from Up North) and knocked on doors, cleared sidewalks and got paid for the combined utility and entertainment* values. Probably no one involved thought about noting this on their tax returns, much less asking for SS numbers.

* The good lines from Pat Conroy's otherwise awful Beach Music: "Southerners love snow. It always surprises us."

February 12, 2007 11:59 PM | TrackBack
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