Tell the Department of Labor You Support Home Care Workers
The vast majority of home care workers—over 90 percent—are women, disproportionately women of color. They provide a lifeline for the elderly and people with disabilities. Their jobs are emotionally and physically demanding, whether they are helping a client to bathe and dress, encouraging a client to take appropriate food, medicine, and exercise, or assisting a client who may use a walker, wheelchair, or portable oxygen equipment to get to the grocery store or a doctor’s appointment. They allow frail elders and people with disabilities to stay in their homes for as long as possible by giving them the help that they need and provide families peace of mind in knowing that their loved ones are being cared for. Many home care workers are the primary breadwinners for their families and struggle to survive on median annual wages of less than $21,000 for full-time work – less than the Federal Poverty Guideline for a family of four.
Yet most of these important workers have never received the most basic labor protections: federal minimum wage and overtime premium pay. In 1974, Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to extend coverage to domestic service workers. But home care workers were denied these protections under a companionship exemption that was originally meant to cover casual babysitters and elder-sitters, not professional caregivers. That was over 35 years ago, and the home care industry has changed dramatically. Now, most home care workers are employed by third party agencies – an $80 billion industry. Yet even these workers who are employed by third parties, rather than individual families, don’t receive basic labor protections. In 2007, the Center joined other groups supporting a home care worker, Evelyn Coke, who challenged the companionship exemption all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court left the exemption in place as reasonable gap-filling by the agency, but explicitly noted that the Department of Labor could change its position in the future.
Secretary Solis and the Department of Labor are now moving to cure this decades-old injustice. On December 27th, the Department issued a proposed rule that would provide the basic protections that home care workers need and deserve. Finally, the vital services these workers provide for the elderly and people with disabilities will be appropriately recognized with basic labor protections, if the proposed rule goes into effect as a final regulation.
Most of the third party agencies in the industry are mobilizing in opposition, even though sixteen states already extend minimum wage and overtime protections to most home care workers, as does one of the nation’s largest home care employers, regardless of whether the practice is required by state law. NWLC recently submitted its comments to support the proposed rule and we need you to act, too! If you are a home care worker, rely on one to care for you or a family member or friend, or if you just care about women receiving basic labor protections, take the time to comment before February 27th! You can see other suggested comments and get information on how you can file your comments online or by mail by visiting PHI PolicyWorks. With your support, this proposed rule can become binding and help nearly 1.8 million home care workers.
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