As the Muttontown millionaires convicted of enslaving and physically abusing their two housekeepers were awaiting sentencing at Suffolk County Criminal Court this morning, a crowd of nannies, housekeepers and activists rallied outside.
Last year, the husband and wife perfume magnates, Varsha Mahender Sabhnani and Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani, were convicted of forced labor and several other charges and will be sentenced today and tomorrow. The duo faces up to 15 years behind bars and could be ordered to pay as much as $1.1 million in back wages.
Several activist groups based in New York City, lead by Domestic Workers United, used the dramatic day—and the shocking descriptions of abuse—to once again call for systemic changes in the way domestic workers are treated by the law.
“Our main message has been that this is not simply an exception, that there’s case after case of these types of abuses,” said Marisa Franco, a DWU organizer.
A survey of domestic workers, mentioned last year in a Voice story about legal protections for nannies, noted that 21 percent have been verbally abused and 1 percent physically abused by their employers. The more common complaints are low pay, little job security and no benefits.
For several years, housekeepers and nannies have been working for the passage of a “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights” that would offer health care provisions, overtime pay, vacation benefits and required pay that is above the state minimum wage.