Is Being An Au Pair A Dream Job—Or A Nightmare?

Photos from Wikipedia Commons

It's a prime example of the exploitation of women's work

Shortly after graduating high school, Johana Paola Beltrán heard about an exciting opportunity: She could live and work in the U.S. for a year as an au pair. Beltrán, who is from Colombia, signed up for the program through InterExchange, a nonprofit cultural exchange program that promotes itself as a way for "adventurous souls" from around the world to "live, work, and travel abroad."

A few things were standing between Beltrán and her new life in the U.S.: She had to take English lessons, get a driver's license, and go to first aid training and swimming classes to qualify. She also had to pay a $2,500 fee for the entire process. After interviewing with a few families over Skype, Beltrán finally found her match. She'd be going to Colorado, to live with and work as a nanny for a family of four.

InterExchange bills its au pair program as a way for young people, most of whom are women, from around the world to "experience a new culture and create life-long memories around the way." Au pairs are expected to work as live-in nannies for their host families, but the program is primarily advertised as a cultural exchange; in addition to their childcare duties, au pairs are required to take English classes and can also sign up for supplemental education programs. They aren't supposed to be treated as live-in housekeepers.

Beltrán's experience, though, wasn't as advertised. She was expected to work from Monday to Saturday, and occasionally worked Sundays. In addition to her childcare duties, Beltran's host family asked her to do the family's laundry, make their beds, pack the children's luggage before and after trips, clean the host mother's car, tend to the family's garden and their chickens, and cook dinner for the family every night, a lawsuit filed in 2014 alleges. She was paid a weekly stipend of $195.75, which is the minimum amount host families are required to pay their au pairs.

It seems that Beltran's experience may also be the norm—or at least not an anomaly. Her class-action lawsuit has several co-plaintiffs and represents approximately 90,000 au pairs total. Four years after the lawsuit was first brought—it's still being litigated but has sparked concern among host families, if parenting forums are to be believed—a report released last August suggests little has changed.

The report—which was published by a coalition of immigrants' rights and labor groups, including the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante and the National Domestic Workers' Alliance—was released in August and details a litany of abuses au pairs have faced across the country, which range from wage theft to sexual harassment and forced labor.

One woman, named as "Beatriz" in the report, said that she was so overworked that she got a bladder infection because she couldn't even take bathroom breaks while caring for her host family's children. After fainting during a doctor's visit, Beatriz was late to pick up the children from school and reprimanded by her host family for doing so despite being sick. Another woman, named in the report as "Raquel," said she often received her stipend late—her host family would occasionally withhold payment to punish her for not cleaning up around the house, even though this wasn't one of her duties as an au pair. The family kicked her out after just four months.

Even in situations that aren't abusive, long hours and low pay is the norm. Of the 16 au pairs interviewed for the report, 86 percent said they work overtime; 64 percent were never paid for that extra work. In almost all cases, au pairs received their weekly stipend of $195.75 and nothing more.

This pay rate is the result of a complicated calculus by the U.S. State Department, which monitors the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, the type of visas au pairs are allowed to enter the U.S. under. Au pairs are technically paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, regardless of what minimum wage laws are where their host families live, minus a 40 percent deduction for room and board. That leaves just $195.75 per week for up to 45 hours of work, or $4.35 per hour. It's worth noting that this rate is the minimum payment and 45 hours is the maximum workweek; host families are allowed to pay their au pairs more money or have them work fewer hours, but, for most au pairs, it's the norm.

Thaty Oliveira, a former au pair who is part of the Matahari Women Workers' Center's au pair committee, told NYLON that her experience was exceptional in that it was largely positive. Oliveira, who is originally from Brazil, worked as an au pair in 2003 for a Boston family.

Olivera said she learned about the program through her best friend when she was 18. "Since I was 10 years old, I said I was going to come to the U.S. I started working when I was 11 years old—I started saving money to come to the U.S.," Oliveira said. "When that opportunity came, I had the exact same amount [as the fees]," about $700, though she doesn't remember the exact amount. "I was like, 'This is it! I can actually pay for it. I was already a teacher in Brazil, I already worked with kids, so for me, it just seemed like a dream come true."

In Boston, Olivera usually worked 30 to 35 hours a week, which she says was less than what other au pairs in the area typically worked. "I found out over the years that I was the exception, not the norm," she said. "The more I got to know au pairs, I found out I was really the exception to the rule." At meetings with other au pairs and their program liaison, she recalls, other young women would complain about how they were being treated, often saying they felt overworked and exploited.

Olivera says the discrepancy between what au pairs were expecting and what they actually experienced is due to false advertising by the agencies that recruit young women to work abroad and match them with families in the U.S. "They will tell you, 'You're like a big sister, you're part of the family,' but they don't really go into the details," she said. "For most of the families, it's cheap childcare. I see it on the mom boards all the time, they talk about how cheap and affordable 24/7 care is, and are always advising other moms to get an au pair."

In one thread on the DC Urban Moms forum, a woman asks whether it's worth it to pay an au pair lower wages since she only needs her to work "say 25-30 hrs a week," since her child goes to pre-school during the week. "Happy to give room and board, just looking to see if I can reduce expenses, because clearly 40-45 hrs is too many hours for us."

"You can't reduce expenses," another mom replied, "but you can have the AP [au pair] work one Saturday morning a month, a weekday evening for date night, fold your kids' laundry, and manage all kid-related task. I put a morning when the kids are in school on her schedule and tell her the stuff just has to be done by the end of the week. If you train well, the AP can really help the household run more smoothly."

In another thread, host moms discuss whether it's okay to limit an au pair's phone hours. "We already told her that she is not to be on her phone during working hours, and I even wrote it down as part of our 'household rules' sheet that I give my au pairs, and she said she understood," one woman wrote. "How many warnings do I give her? Also, do I let her occasionally talk to her parents during working hours for no more than a few minutes since there is a 6 hour time difference? Or do I tell her absolutely no talking to anyone overseas during working hours unless emergency?"

Another poster dispensed some wisdom: "A family I know had this issue. They ended up getting a prepaid flip phone and had her lock her smart phone in her room during the day and carry the prepaid phone for checking in with the parents."

Several other threads delve into what housekeeping it's acceptable to ask au pairs to do. One woman said her au pair "is responsible for the childrens laundry- clean, dry put away," in addition to cooking the children's breakfast and lunch, which is not "a chore, more like part of the childcare aspect."

"If au pair task is to put away dishes that are related to child care," another poster asked, "then does that mean that the coffee mug used by dad boss can be left on the coffee table?"

"If the AP wants to strictly be treated as an employee and nothing more, then leave the dad boss' mug on the table. However, this makes for a very long year," another replied. "AP cannot have her cake and eat it, too (want to be treated like a family member and be given family benefits but not in return give courtesy like putting away another family member's mug)."

Janie Chuang, an associate professor of law at American University's Washington College of Law, called this mentality—that au pairs aren't domestic workers, but rather "part of the family"—a weaponization of "false kinship."

In a 2013 paper for the Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, Chuang detailed how host families exploit au pairs' labor, often under the guise of a familial relationship. "Employers are referred to as 'host parents,' 'host mom,' or 'host dad,' and au pairs as a 'daughter' to the host parents or a 'big sister' to the children," Chuang wrote. "Just as the mother/child idiom can be used to mark kinship, it can be used for inclusive effect to extract additional labor that the au pair would otherwise refuse beyond her required duties."

The idea that the au pair is a member of the family who is just helping out—and getting free room and board, plus spending money for doing so—is also instrumental in keeping wages low.

The 2014 au pair lawsuit doesn't just allege that au pairs are overworked and underpaid; it also claims that the country's largest au pair matching agencies, including InterExchange, Cultural Care, Inc., and American Culture Exchange, have colluded to keep the wage floor low, and in doing so, have violated federal anti-trust laws. "[T]he program has been co-opted by an illegal cartel of approved 'sponsors' that set wages for the industry far below the market rate for non-immigrant professionals in the same industry," the suit claims. "Many au pairs are lucky to join great families and have exceptional experiences, but the situation is ripe for exploitation by unscrupulous 'hosts.'"

The response to the suit has been telling. In a 2015 filing, Go Au Pair said that the suit "attacks the very existence of our nation's au pair program," the Wall Street Journal reported. One commenter on the website Au Pair Mom said the stipend is fair because "it does not take into account all the other things [host families] provide the AP. Considering the AP is living independently as a renter of a single room in a shared apartment…. Room cost is just one variable that chips away at the gross minimum wage earnings."

"If they get minimum wage, does that mean we can charge rent?" another commenter asked.

People on the DC Urban Moms forum put it more bluntly. "Grateful in this instance that the wheels of justice don't turn very fast," one wrote. "If that happens, there will be no incentive for families to participate in the program. Why would anyone pay what we can pay our neighbor's teen daughter…. No benefit to the family," wrote another.

But in January, 15 of the companies authorized to provide au pair services reached a $65.5 million settlement with the au pairs. The settlement not only requires the companies to compensate au pairs who were underpaid but to provide future au pairs with information about their rights. "This settlement, the hard-fought victory of our clients who fought for years on behalf of about 100,000 fellow au pairs, will be perhaps the largest settlement ever on behalf of minimum wage workers and will finally give au pairs the opportunity to seek higher wages and better working conditions," David Seligman, the director of the Denver-based advocacy group Towards Justice, which filed the suit in 2014, told NPR in a statement.

Even some denizens of parenting forums seem happy about the settlement. "I hope au pairs do ask for more money," one wrote. The au pair program "[n]ever sat well with me as an antitrust lawyer."

Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for goop

"I had to create a harder shell about being a woman"

In a panel discussion during Gwyneth Paltrow's In Goop Health summit, actress Jessica Alba revealed that she "stopped eating" to avoid unwanted attention from men when she was first starting her career in Hollywood.

According to People, Alba said that she "had a curvy figure as a young girl" and, as such, was made to feel as though her body was the reason that men may be inappropriate toward her. "I was meant to feel ashamed if I tempted men," Alba said during the panel discussion. "Then I stopped eating a lot when I became an actress. I made myself look more like a boy so I wouldn't get as much attention. I went through a big tomboy phase."

She continued, "In Hollywood, you're really preyed upon. They see a young girl, and they just want to touch you inappropriately or talk to you inappropriately or think that they're allowed to be aggressive with you in a way."

Alba also noted that she was raised in a conservative household. "My mom would say, 'You have a body, and it's very womanly, and people don't understand that you're 12,'" she said. "I wasn't allowed to have my nalgas out, which is butt cheeks [in Spanish], but I was born with a giant booty, and they come out of everything. So, I didn't get to wear normal things that all my friends wore."

She said that these reactions to her body really affected her attitude. "I created this pretty insane 'don't fuck with me' [attitude]," she said. "I had to create a harder shell about being a woman."

According to her, her relationship to her body only changed when her first child, Honor, was born in 2008. "[After she was born,] I was like, Oh this is what these boobies are meant to do! Feed a kid!" she said. "And that was the dopest shit I'd ever done. So, I came into my body as a woman finally and I stopped being ashamed of myself."

Photo courtesy of Teva

Because of course

Teva, the most obvious lesbian footwear brand since Birkenstock, really knows its customer base. In time for Pride, the brand has teamed up with Tegan and Sara for a gay shoe to end all gay shoes. In other words, your Pride footwear is on lock.

The shoe isn't just your average Teva sandal. Tegan and Sara's design, the Teva Flatform Universal Pride sandal, is a 2.5-inch platform shoe with a rainbow sole. Tegan and Sara noted in a press release that they have been Teva wearers for pretty much their whole lives. "We got our first pair of Teva sandals when we were 16," they said. "This rainbow Flatform collab is like full circle LGBTQ+ Pride validation."

What's better, with each sandal sale, Teva will donate $15 to the Tegan and Sara Foundation, up to $30,000. The funds donated will go toward scholarships which will give young members of the LGBTQ+ community the chance to go to summer camps which will "help develop self-confidence and leadership abilities in a safe and nurturing environment." Tegan and Sara added, "Teva's generous support for our foundation will allow us to help even more LGBTQ+ youth."

Available today at Teva's and Nordstrom's websites, the sandal retails for $80.

Photo courtesy of Teva

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Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images

"Focusing on innovative materials will allow the company to explore new boundaries of creative design"

Prada Group has announced that Prada, as well as all of its brands, will now be fur-free. According to a press release from the Humane Society, Prada, Miu Miu, Church's, and Car Shoe will ban the use of fur beginning with the Spring/Summer 2020 collection (aka the Fashion Week coming up next). The list of fashion designers banning fur only continues to grow, with 3.1 Phillip Lim, Coach, Armani, Versace, Gucci, and more having stopped using the material in seasons past.

"The Prada Group is committed to innovation and social responsibility, and our fur-free policy—reached following a positive dialogue with the Fur Free Alliance, in particular with LAV and the Humane Society of the United States—is an extension of that engagement," Miuccia Prada told the Human Society. "Focusing on innovative materials will allow the company to explore new boundaries of creative design while meeting the demand for ethical products."

Following London Fashion Week designers forgoing the use of fur in September and the first-ever Vegan Fashion Week taking place in February, it's easy to imagine an entirely fur-free fashion future. It's especially easy, I presume, for the brands to consider a fur-free future, given that entire cities and states are taking a stance. New York is following in the footsteps of Los Angeles banning fur, with a bill proposed this March that would ban sales across New York State.

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Photo by Johnny Dufort

"Club leisure" is the new athleisure

Alexander Wang is recognizing clubbing as the workout that it truly is with his latest Adidas collaboration. In this fifth installment, he "changes gears," per a press release from the brand, taking the iconic sports brand to the dance floor.

For the new campaign, the collection comes to life in iconic choreographer Tanisha Scott's dance studio and stars dancers Noemi Janumala, Dakota Moore, Avi McClish, and Olivia Burgess. The dancers show just how far these clothes can go when you want to bust a move or stretch, but TBH, I'll leave these poses to the pros and just use my clothes for flexing on the 'gram.

The collection—which features six apparel items, three shoes, and six accessories—features, per a press release, "Wang's knack for pre-styling." Standouts from the mostly black-and-white items include a silver sneaker that was *made* for moonwalking, an airy windbreaker that has just the right dash of bright blue with the scattered Adidas trefoil design, and a towel hoodie that you won't feel bad sweating in.

Ahead of the May 25 collection drop online and in stores, peep the gorgeous campaign images below.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Black, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Towel, $80, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Joggers, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Turnout BBall Shoes, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Towel Hoodie, $350, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Sock Leggings, $60, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Adilette Slides, $90, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Futureshell Shoes in Platinum Metallic, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Core White, $280, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Shorts in Core White, $120, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

Photo by Johnny Dufort

Adidas Originals by AW, Sweatshirt in Black, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Bum Bag, $50, available staring May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Towel, $80, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Turnout BBall Shoes, $250, available starting May 25 at Adidas; Adidas Originals by AW, Duffle Bag, $70, available starting May 25 at Adidas.

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Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

And Nikolaj Coster-Waldau's reaction to that prediction is literally all of us

Though it felt like no one saw the bonkers end to Game of Thrones coming, Gwendoline Christie, who played Ser Brienne of Tarth on the show, predicted exactly who would end up with the majority of power in the Seven, or rather, Six Kingdoms years before it all went down. During an interview leading up to the penultimate season of Game of Thrones in 2017, Christie sat down with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (aka Jaime Lannister) for an interview with Mario Lopez, and they were both asked to predict how the whole thing would come to a close. Spoilers ahead...

Lopez posed the question, "If you were a gambling man, who would you say?" Coster-Waldau replied: "Well gambling, the odds now are clearly in Daenerys Targaryan's favor. Or, that guy," he said, pointing to a picture of the Night King.

But Christie, knowing Game of Thrones' tendencies toward the unpredictable, came right back at Coster-Waldau, asking, "But don't you think it's going to be someone out of left field?"

"So I'm wondering if it might be Bran," Christie suggested, "Just because we keep seeing the world from his perspective, don't we? We keep seeing the visions. So is he in the future, projecting in the past?"

Coster-Waldau's reaction to the suggestion that Bran will rule over them all is, well, exactly how we all felt watching it play out in real time this past Sunday evening. "The three eyed raven? As a king? No, that doesn't make sense," he said. And, well, same. Because while I usually *adore* watching Christie shut down Coster-Waldau, like they're an old married couple bickering, this time I'm on his side. It made no sense!

Coster-Waldau attempted to reason with her, saying that if Bran was planning the whole thing, then he wanted Jaime to push him out the window, and that makes no sense at all. But Christie stood firm in her belief, and, as last Sunday demonstrated, her commitment to this highly improbably outcome paid off. We hope she placed a sizable bet in Vegas.

Catch the full clip below.