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Home Care Work

Care Work is Real Work — And Must Be Compensated as Such

Thursday morning, the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in Home Care Association of America vs. Weil, the Department of Labor’s appeal of a district court decision vacating central provisions of new regulations extending basic protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)—like minimum wage and overtime pay—to nearly two million home care workers.

Shortly after the arguments, workers and advocates gathered on the front steps of the courthouse for a press conference to put the case in context and to bring forward the stories of the workers and the families seeking home care who will be affected by the case. Workers spoke about the struggle to care for their patients while barely being able to make ends meet for their own families. Wages in the field are low: one quarter of workers are paid below the federal minimum wage, and the median wage is below $10 an hour. On top of that, home care workers are not ensured overtime pay like other hourly workers under the FLSA. Paula Wilson, a home care worker, spoke about the close relationships she forms with her consumers, and how she will often stay longer with them when they are going through periods of stress or aggravated illness but will not be compensated for that time. She emphasized that home care is not a profession where you can just clock out at the end of the day—but that the current system exploits workers for their compassion, instead of fairly compensating them for improving the quality of care that patients receive. Read more »

NWLC Supports Home Care Workers in D.C. Circuit Amicus Brief

Last Friday, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) joined the American Civil Liberties Union, Legal Momentum, and a number of other civil rights advocates as amici curiae on a brief  filed with the D.C. Circuit in support of the Department of Labor (DOL) in Home Care Association of America vs. Weil. DOL is appealing the district court’s decision vacating central provisions of new regulations—for which NWLC advocated—extending Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protections to nearly two million home care workers. Read more »

On Heartbreak and Butter Cake: A Dispatch from St. Louis

Genius organizer Ai-Jen Poo often talks about how home care workers and other domestic workers are the invisible workforce – performing life-sustaining work for low wages and no benefits day in and day out. But this week in St. Louis at the Home Care Workers Rising conference home care workers made their dreams and their struggles highly visible. They came together from across the country to hammer out plans for a better future for themselves, their children, and the consumers for whom they provide care. Read more »

Supreme Court Case About Unionizing Home Care Workers Raises High Stakes

The U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t do snow days, apparently. While much of D.C. hunkered down Tuesday for our latest winter storm, the Court went on as usual, hearing oral arguments in a case that could upset years of established labor law. It could leave low-wage workers, overwhelmingly women, who provide home health care services under Illinois’ Medicaid program—and potentially other public employees—without a voice at the negotiating table. Knowing how high the stakes are, I ventured out to listen.

The case, Harris v. Quinn, addresses key questions about the unionizing of in-home care providers paid by the state of Illinois through two Medicaid programs. Here is a boiled-down version of the main issues: First, if a majority of care providers vote in favor of an exclusive bargaining representative (a union), can the state recognize and negotiate with that union? Second, can the providers who voted against unionization be required to pay a “fair share fee,” a payment that goes to cover the administrative costs of bargaining the contract that also benefits them? Read more »

California Stands Up for Domestic Workers

California just enacted the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, joining New York and Hawaii as states that care for those who care for the vulnerable. Domestic workers are an important part of today’s work force. These workers – 95 percent of whom are women – care for the household, the children and grandparents, the sick and people with disabilities. In the words of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, they do “the work that makes all other work possible.” And yet, they are often paid very low wages, and work in difficult conditions.

After 7 years of advocacy and two vetoes, California’s domestic workers will finally receive a very important workplace protection: the right to overtime pay. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it can be for workers who spend all day taking care of children, the elderly and the infirm. The bill of rights is estimated to cover 200,000 California housekeepers, child-care providers, and caregivers. Read more »

Stop Tax Haven Abuse—Another Way to Fight Poverty and Inequality

It’s been a roller coaster week, and it’s not over yet. Disappointing news from the Census Bureau that we didn’t make progress reducing poverty or the wage gap last year. Exciting news from the Department of Labor about a new rule that brings home care workers one giant step closer to fair pay. The threat that the House will vote later today to slash vital SNAP (Food Stamp) benefits for millions of Americans and vote tomorrow to extend the sequester for several more months. The sequester vote will include yet another effort to defund the Affordable Care Act.

But even in Congress, there are some encouraging developments. Yesterday, several Members of Congress turned out for a special game of Chutes and Ladders (with hula hoops!) to show their support for investing in early learning. And today, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and cosponsors Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mark Begich (D-AK) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act to close offshore tax loopholes. Read more »

Home Care Workers Shouldn’t Have to Wait Any Longer for Basic Labor Protections

One year ago, President Obama announced new regulations proposed by the Department of Labor (DOL) that would grant minimum wage and overtime pay to home care workers, a workforce that has been unfairly denied these basic protections for decades. In his remarks last December, he described a day he spent with Pauline Beck, a home care worker from Oakland, California:

“When we met, she was getting up every day at 5:00 a.m. to go to work taking care of an 86-year-old amputee named ‘Mr. John.’ And each day, she’d dress Mr. John and help him into his wheelchair. She’d make him breakfast. She’d scrub his floors. She’d clean his bathroom. She was his connection to the outside world. And when the workday was done, she would go home to take care of a grandnephew and two foster children who didn’t have families of their own. Heroic work, and hard work. That’s what Pauline was all about.”

Pauline’s story is illustrative. Like Pauline, most home care workers are women. They take on the vitally important work of caring for our neighbors and family members who need help to stay in their homes – and like Pauline, many home care workers also have their own families to support. But for decades, their difficult and demanding jobs have come without the basic protections of the federal minimum wage and overtime laws. Read more »

NYT Op-Ed Gets It Right: “Home Care Workers Aren’t Just ‘Companions’”

In case you (like many of us here at NWLC) have been too busy dealing with power outages and oppressive heat to keep up with the New York Times over the past few days, I wanted to flag for you a great op-ed from Sunday’s paper. In it, Professors Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein make a concise and compelling case for granting long overdue Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protections – minimum wage and overtime premium pay – to home care workers.

You might recall that President Obama has also called for this policy change, and late last year, the Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a new rule that would extend FLSA protections to home care workers. Specifically, the proposed regulations would exclude these workers from the FLSA’s exemption for “companionship services.” To date, this exemption – which was intended to exempt casual caregivers, like babysitters, from FLSA requirements when the statute was expanded to cover domestic service workers in 1974 – has been inappropriately applied to the professional workers who provide the intensive care necessary for many elderly and ill adults to remain in their homes. As Boris and Klein observe, the home care workforce has exploded since the 1970s as the U.S. population has aged, and the “existing exemption mainly serves home-care franchises, an $84 billion industry that is one of the most profitable in the United States….[It] has allowed staffing agencies to avoid paying overtime [and] treated women who labored to support their families as if they were teenagers picking up some spending money.” Read more »

Time is Running Out to Show Support for 1.8 Million Home Care Workers

If you follow our blog, you know that the Department of Labor has proposed a rule that would extend basic labor protections – minimum wage and overtime protection – to home care workers who have been excluded under an exemption for “companionship services.” The Fair Labor Standards Act was amended in 1974 to include domestic service workers, but millions of home care workers never got to enjoy the basic protections included in that law. Instead, these professional workers (about 90 percent of whom are women) have been put in the same category as teenaged babysitters or neighbors who stop by to check in on an elderly person. As a result, the home care industry has a very high turnover rate – estimated to range from 44 to 65 percent each year – which diminishes quality and continuity of care for clients and costs the industry an estimated $2 billion annually. It has been almost 40 years since other domestic service workers gained wage and hour protections. Home care workers shouldn’t have to wait anymore!

Unfortunately, many companies in the over-80-billion-dollar home care industry are working hard to prevent home care workers from receiving basic labor protections. The industry has found an ally in some Members of Congress who petitioned the Department of Labor to extend the public comment period for the proposed rule – even though the Department announced almost 2 years ago that it was looking into the issue and over 5000 comments had already been received. The House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections is going to hold a hearing on this issue on March 7. Although the official witness list hasn’t been announced, we anticipate that the industry will be well represented and we know what their witnesses are likely to say: that the rule would be too expensive and that it would hurt, not help, home care workers. Let me take a moment to debunk those myths right now. Read more »

Tell the Department of Labor You Support Home Care Workers

Join the National Women’s Law Center and tell the Department of Labor that you agree that home care workers deserve the basic protections of the minimum wage and overtime laws.

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. Read more »