Dozens of au pairs and their host families rallied inside the Massachusetts State House Wednesday to fight for relief from a December federal appeals court decision that au pairs should be covered under the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.
The decision requires families to pay au pairs minimum wage and overtime. Host families say the well-intentioned, but ill-conceived, change would increase their costs by 250%.
"It's scary when you're young and you have new kids to try to imagine how to come up with money that you didn't ever think you needed to have," said Sophie Johnstone of Hingham.
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Johnstone says she and her husband chose to use their French au pair, Pauline Lusseaud, not only as a cost-saving alternative to day care for their two sons, but as a way to expose their children to other cultures. Lusseaud's motivation to be an au pair was similar.
"We don't do this for the money and just don't do this for a job," Lusseaud said. "It's an experience."
Host families say they pay almost $10,000 to get into the program, covering their au pair's visa, flight, training and schooling, as well as providing housing, food and a car – along with a nearly $200 weekly stipend.
"These are middle class families," said host parent Keli Callaghan of Harvard. "We are working parents."
A group representing more than 1,500 host families met with lawmakers to try to educate them on the au pair program and get them to support two proposed bills that would allow for better tax deductions for covering au pair housing and meal expenses, as well as additional time to become compliant with the law.
"There's lack of clarity on what the program becomes," Callaghan said. "I think for a lot of us, we really feel this is the beginning of the end."
The Matahari Women Worker's Center released a statement saying, in part, "We are hopeful that we can work with au pairs, host families, and legislators to pass legislation that supports host families, while not undermining the basic rights that au pairs have been denied for far too long."
The Massachusetts Attorney General's Office says it understands many host families were surprised by this decision and it will not enforce the wage rule yet.