January 22, 2015

Lisa Adler

Conservative Judge Deals Blow to Care Workers

Image Credit: SEIU Healthcare MN

UPDATE (1/23/2015): Yesterday, the Department of Labor filed an appeal to the lawsuit brought by home care companies challenging the Home Care Final Rule and stated:  “We believe the Rule is legally sound and is the right policy—both for those employees, whose demanding work merits these fundamental wage guarantees, and for recipients of services, who deserve a stable and professional workforce allowing them to remain in their homes and communities.”

Last week, a federal district court in Washington, D.C., issued an order vacating the 2013 Department of Labor rule requiring minimum wage and overtime protections for home-care workers. The ruling was a disappointing end to a lawsuit brought by the home-care industry and the International Franchise Association, who took issue with the department’s changing the definition of “companionship services,” thereby ensuring in-home “companions” – hardworking, dedicated home-care workers – would receive the minimum wage and overtime protections granted to most other workers in our country.

The good news is that the Department of Labor can appeal this decision. Jobs With Justice, Caring Across Generations, and allies from across the consumer and care-provider communities who understand the importance of these protections in ensuring quality care are actively encouraging the department to do so.

Despite the ruling – all states can and should move forward to implement these basic protections for home-care workers. In fact, 15 states already have such protections (another seven states provide minimum wage but no overtime) – and nearly every state had begun to prepare for this change in their 2015 budget and planning process. Given our nation’s rapidly aging population, establishing basic legal protections for the workforce who will allow our parents and grandparents to age with dignity at home is more urgent than ever.

Unfortunately, some states are using the ruling as an excuse to leave better pay for care workers out of their budgets. A few days after the ruling, California announced it would not include overtime pay for home-care workers in its budget. This is a shameful decision given the importance of the care workforce in California, which supports almost half a million California seniors and people with disabilities.

Home-care workers have never enjoyed the same protections that other workers have and have always had to fight to be visible in our country’s eyes and laws. So while the judge’s ruling and California’s decision are setbacks, care workers continue to seek justice in organizing efforts around the country. In fact, only days after the D.C. court’s decision, 27,000 Minnesota care workers represented by SEIU Healthcare Minnesota voted on their first contract, a huge victory that will provide a wage floor of $11.00 an hour, five days of paid time off and funding for training.

By combining legislative and regulatory efforts with effective organizing and collective bargaining strategies, home-care workers will continue to come out of the shadows and toward a path of dignity and respect.

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