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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Taking Care of Home Care Workers

Dee Mahan

Even though she'd had a heart attack and several "mini-strokes" and couldn't walk, my mother-in-law was able to live in her own apartment until she died at age 90. That was important to her. She was able to do that because she had round-the-clock care provided through an agency that contracted with her state's Medicaid program.

Her wonderful caregivers fixed her meals, took her around the neighborhood, shopping, and to the doctor. They made sure she took her medications, helped her to the bathroom and helped her dress, and made sure she didn't fall. You probably know someone - a grandparent, a parent, another family member, friend or neighbor - who has benefited from such care.

The home care workers who made it possible for my mother-in-law to live in her own home are part of one of the fastest growing segments of the American workforce. A segment that is excluded from the minimum wage and overtime protections that apply to workers - such as cooks, butlers, valets, housekeepers, and gardeners - in other professions. Home care workers are put in the same category as "casual babysitters" or people who provide "companionship services" – jobs that don't have these protections.

We have an opportunity to change that now, and you can help. On December 27, 2011, the Department of Labor issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, "Application of the Fair Labor Standards Act to Domestic Service." This rule proposes to extend minimum wage and overtime protection to home care workers.

But it isn't final yet! The rule could still get held up or changed - a lot could happen. But the more people who let the Department of Labor know that making this rule final is important, the more likely it is that it will get through the rulemaking process. It's important that you make your voice heard. The home care agencies are making their voice heard, and they're saying that giving overtime protection to home care workers would be too expensive.

You can make a big difference by telling the Department of Labor that you support this rule by submitting a comment. It doesn't have to be technical or in legal jargon, they just need to hear from you. Here are some things you might include in your comments:

  • Home care workers provide critical services to people with disabilities and the elderly. They provide more than "companionship services." They make it possible for the people they care for to live in their own homes without getting hurt.
  • We have to make home care jobs good jobs. There's a nationwide shortage of home care workers at the same time that there is a dramatic increase in the number of people needing home care. Unless home care workers are assured good pay and overtime protection, these jobs won't be filled and more and more people will end up in expensive nursing homes.
  • We can afford to pay home care workers minimum wage. Home care industry revenue grew at an average rate of 9 percent from 2001 to 2009, with revenues increasing even during the recession.
  • Home care workers deserve to be treated with dignity and fairly compensated for their work. Home care work is challenging, often strenuous, and even dangerous, and critical to keeping seniors and people with disabilities safe. Yet even while the industry's revenue was growing, home care workers were paid so poorly that nearly half had to rely on public assistance, such as food stamps, to supplement their low wages, and on Medicaid for health care. The industry is profiting from low wages at the expense of workers and taxpayers.
  • The Department of Labor should finalize the rule. In your comments, don't forget to tell the Department of Labor to move quickly and finalize the proposed rule giving home care workers minimum wage and overtime protection.

You can include those points in your comments, or you can use sample comments prepared by PHI-the non-profit organization representing home care workers.

You have to send your comments by February 27 - so send them as soon as possible! Click here to make an electronic submission. The Department of Labor will read and count every comment they receive. You really can make a difference.