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Jodi Sturgeon's picture

This week marks the seventh anniversary of the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision Coke vs. Long Island Care at Home. In that case, Evelyn Coke, a Jamaican immigrant who had been a home care worker for over two decades, sought payment of back wages from her employer for unpaid overtime.


Ms. Coke lost her case. The Court upheld the U.S. Department of Labor’s regulatory authority to exclude Ms. Coke and countless other home care workers from federal minimum wage and overtime protections, under a decades-old exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).


Today, like the late Ms. Coke, 2 million home care aides are still excluded from these basic federal labor protections. That means, even if the campaign to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour is successful, home care aides could be left out.


Fortunately, the Obama Administration has made it a priority to address this injustice. The administration has published a revised rule that essentially ends the exclusion of home care aides from federal labor laws beginning January 1, 2015. After decades of organizing and advocacy, home care workers will finally be recognized for the important work that they do each day assisting individuals who, due to age or disability, need some extra help to live independently in their communities.


But there is a hitch. The opposition to this rule change is pushing for it to be delayed another 18 months. That would be almost three years from the time the rule was published in October 2013—whereas most rules take effect in just 30 to 60 days.


The administration purposefully delayed implementation for 15 months to give states—which fund most home care services through their Medicaid programs—time to adjust their budgets to accommodate the modest costs associated with this change. Further delay is unconscionable.


Home care aides deserve better. They have waited long enough to be recognized for the vital role they play in our system of eldercare and disability services.


Almost entirely a workforce of women, predominantly women of color, home care workers have for far too long been asked to sacrifice their own incomes to hold down the cost of home care services. Earning, on average, less than $10/hour, often at part-time jobs, about half of the workforce must rely on public benefits to support their own families. To put it simply, this is not fair.


Consumers deserve better, too.


The poor quality of these jobs affects us all. Eventually we will need home care services for someone we love or ourselves. At that point, a reliable, skilled caregiver is the most valuable person on earth. Juggling eldercare and childcare, jobs and after-school programs, volunteer work and friends—it’s more than most of us can do alone. A quality paid caregiver relieves us of the constant stress and worry that we can’t “do it all.” Whether the person we love and care for lives halfway across the country, or town, home care aides are a lifeline. They provide the peace of mind we all crave.


But finding aides like Evelyn Coke—those who continue to serve their clients in spite of the low wages—is difficult because most home care aides cannot afford to stay in this occupation.


The industry is plagued by low retention and high turnover. The worker coming to care for your mother or grandmother has most likely been on the job less than one year. And just as you get to know her, she may leave for a better paying job, with less stress and risk of injury, at the local mall.


Rising demand makes it essential that we move to stabilize and grow the home care workforce today. Providing basic labor protections is an essential first step. Make sure President Obama carries through on his commitment to home care workers and the families that rely on them. Ask the Department of Labor to stand firm—and to begin enforcing minimum wage and overtime protections for the home care workforce on January 1, 2015. Take action today.

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