Online ESL Teacher

Kathy Wilder Bichler

I’m an online teacher of English as a second language for children who are 4 to 16 years old in China. I contract with a company called VIPKid. The company provides the online platform, the curriculum and the students. I choose the times I teach and how I will teach the curriculum. My day starts at 3 a.m. and ends at 8:30 a.m.

There are multiple reasons why working this way is important to me. First and foremost is that I am the caretaker for my disabled husband. The hours that I work are outside of normal business hours in the United States, which means I can take my husband to the doctor as needed without having to worry about taking too much time off from work for personal needs.

I also like this work because Social Security disability payments are not enough to live on. I need to bring in whatever income I can to assist with our basic needs: food, clothes, lodging, medical expenses, college tuition for our children, utilities, car expenses, health insurance, home maintenance and more.

And, I should add, I am 53 years old. Ageism is real. Who is going to hire me to do anything else that will allow me to live my life and help my husband?

How S863 (formerly S4204/A5936) is going to hurt me: The company I contract with has already announced that as of December 1, 2019, they will no longer be offering work to contractors who live in California because of similar legislation that was recently enacted there. If New Jersey passes this legislation, the company will make the same decision for those of us working from New Jersey. I will be unable to work and provide for my family. We will not be able to afford to continue to live here. We will be forced to relocate to a state with a lower cost of living.

What I want lawmakers to know: S863 (formerly S4204/A5936), as written, does not protect workers. It punishes those who are not able to work in a traditional work environment.

It hurts the ill, who would like to be productive members of society. It hurts single parents who are trying to support their families while raising their kids. It hurts people who are managing their children’s medical needs, or taking care of spouses or elderly parents. It hurts the middle-aged and older workers who are denied full-time employment.

The lawmakers trying to push this legislation through without meeting with the people they claim they are trying to protect should be ashamed of themselves. True representatives of the people would take their time when enacting legislation that will have an impact on us. Real representatives would learn from the awful fallout that California is experiencing since passing similar legislation. Lawmakers who actually care would meet with the people, and listen.

As someone who has been a lifelong union supporter: I am here to tell you that this legislation is not protecting workers. At the very least, if you are going to insist on passing this legislation, then make an exemption so online teachers and tutors will not be classified as employees.

I vote, and I am watching.