The Conversation

Nanny From Hell and the squatter ethos

The strange story of Diane Stretton, widely known as the "Nanny From Hell" (evidently sometimes known less poetically as the "Won't-Go Nanny" by some local media) has been bubbling along for about a month now.  In short, Stretton is an elderly woman hired off Craigslist to work for room and board as a live-in nanny for the three children of a California couple, Ralph and Marcella Bracamonte.  They grew dissatisfied with her work, claiming that she quickly lost interest in doing nanny stuff.  Stretton, for her part, says she was asked to work much harder than she originally bargained for, with round-the-clock duties that included no breaks or holidays.  As usual in such a dispute, each side claims the other is not telling the whole story.

What makes this all weird enough to grab headlines is that after being fired (or, according to her account, quitting) Stretton simply refused to leave the house.  She's squatting in the Bracamonte residence and refuses to leave.  The Bracamontes encountered a classic California bureaucracy nightmare when they contacted the authorities, as chronicled by CBS News in Los Angeles:

The couple say they fired Stretton on June 6 but she refused to leave.

They went to court to try to extricate her from their premises but filled out the three-day quit notice incorrectly and a judge sided with Stretton, who the Bracamontes say has yet to collect her belongings.

The family says they haven’t spoken to their former nanny for nearly two weeks and heard in various media reports she would be out by July 4.

The Bracamontes say the judge has not issued an eviction order so it remains unclear as to when Stretton may have to leave.

CBS2/KCAL9 News was at the residence June 25, when the Bracamontes served Stretton with legal documents in their own living room.

“When I called the police, they were telling me it’s now a civil matter and that I have to evict her. So, this lady is welcome inside my house anytime she wants, to eat my food anytime she wants and harass me basically. I’m now a victim in my own home, and it’s completely legal,” Marcella said.

That report was posted on Monday, and there's apparently still no sign of Stretton shoving off.  She complains about being "assassinated" in the media, but it's not to understand why most people - especially most parents - would quickly run out of sympathy for her when they learn she's camping in someone else's house and refuses to leave.  This is Mad Hatter lunatic stuff.

Not everyone sees Stretton as a villain in the story.  Tom Scocca at Gawker heatedly insists that she's the hero, and the family she's haunting deserves everything they're getting, because they tried to exploit her.  Riffing off the "Nanny From Hell" sobriquet, Scocca condemns the couple as "sinners" who are getting "the torment they deserve":

So it goes for the Bracamonte family of Upland, California. The Bracamontes decided they needed a live-in servant to help care for their children, but they did not want to pay wages for that labor. Through some combination of greed, stupidity, and self-regard, they believed that in lieu of paying for the work, they could simply give the person they hired meals and a place in their house to sleep.

Now, to their shock, the Bracamontes have discovered that the person who initially agreed to work on their exploitative and illegal terms is unreasonable. They are so upset that they have gone to the press with this problem: that the person they unlawfully brought into their home, as an unpaid servant, now will neither work as their servant nor leave their house.

What a terrible problem for the Bracamonte family to have. Now they say they are afraid in their own home, because this person they were ripping off—this marginal and allegedly disturbed person they thought should be caring for their children—won't go away.

As evidence for this contention, Scocca links to another CBS Los Angeles piece in which a reporter checked with the California Labor Commission, determined that employers are in fact required to pay live-in nannies a salary above and beyond room and board, and confronted Mrs. Bracamonte with this information.  She "turned notably sour" at this attempt to portray her as the villain in the story, which is really not surprising for a woman currently ignored by the authorities while a hostile stranger stomps around her house for weeks on end.  But Scocca smells the whiff of social justice rising from the Bracamontes' discomfort, because they, and the Nanny From Hell, are all just symbolic chess pieces in our endless class war:

Good for Stretton. How sadly fallen is this country when crooks like the Bracamontes can put themselves forth as sympathetic figures? Why, because they own a house? Because they "created" a "job"? The Nanny From Hell is an avatar of our collective future, the symbol of a nation that screws people remorselessly and pretends it's business as usual. What do we expect will happen, after "entitlement reform" and "pension restructuring," when everyone whose benefits have been looted reaches retirement age? There will be desperate and unyielding old people lurking in every closet of the house. And we will all deserve it.

We might pause to consider that he's describing a formula for economic collapse, and maybe even the destruction of society itself.  All transactions are based upon a certain degree of trust.  The upshot of the Nanny From Hell case is that nobody can trust such a person, because they might decide they don't like the terms of the agreement they voluntarily entered, and decide to take it out on you by occupying (or should that be "Occupying?") your house.  

If this story had ended with Stratten alleging she was somehow fooled or coerced into agreeing to serve as a nanny for room and board, and taken her concerns to the authorities, she'd have less trouble earning sympathy from sane people.  It sure doesn't sound like the California labor board would have been unsympathetic to her complaints of being worked hard without cash compensation, does it?

One might say the couple was extraordinarily foolish for hiring a live-in nanny off Craigslist, in an effort to score some bargain-priced child care services.  It's fair enough to criticize them for not thoroughly investigating the labor laws before hiring for an important position that involves the safety of their children.  (Especially since they live in California, where it's safe to assume that every transaction occurs beneath a telephone book full of state regulations.)  Whatever else they thought about Stratten going in, they obviously didn't work out the endgame of what would happen if they found her performance unsatisfactory.  I'm sure they won't make that mistake again.  

Which, as long as we're extrapolating broader cultural and economic trends from this case, is a pretty good description of how the job market is collapsing under mandates and regulations.  Employment of any kind is a profound act of trust, but the Occupy ethos portrays it as a one-way street of responsibility, in which nobody should get fired, and unhappy employees have a limitless warrant to declare themselves "victims" and seek coercive "justice."  You don't have to be any sort of blanket apologist for businesses, large or small, to understand how that kind of thinking leads to fewer people getting hired.  Risk is, inescapably, a factor in the perceived cost of labor, or any other resource.  Turn employment into a legal minefield that could blow up in employers' faces, dump an expensive pile of mandates atop every hire, raise wages until there is no such thing as "entry level" work, and make it difficult to terminate unsatisfactory employees... and you can't pretend to be surprised that the result is a collapsing job market.

As for the Scocca's broader point about how we'll all soon have angry senior citizens squatting in our houses, and we've got it coming: well, whose fault is that?  He should direct his ire at the people who set up the unsustainable entitlement and pension programs, not the working people who can no longer shoulder the burden of funding them.  Squeeze those deficit unicorns as hard as you want; remorseless accounting and demographic pressures will soon cause them to fart out their last cloud of Skittles and keel over.  But the squatter ethos is all about making demands of the productive, and denying the very concepts of ownership and responsibility, isn't it?


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