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Obama Administration Extends Wage and Hour Protections to Home Health Care Workers

The Obama Administration will provide wage protections for home care workers via executive order, a promising proposal for over two million workers previously exempted from coverage. The move is another in the “We Can’t Wait” proposals the Administration has been leaking out for a couple months.

Twenty-nine states currently exempt home health care workers from minimum wage and overtime provisions, and five other states (plus the District of Columbia) extend minimum wage but not overtime coverage to those workers. So this proposed regulation, run through the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, would have an immediate impact to those workers in 34 states and DC, roughly half of the nation’s home health care workforce. In addition, in the states which do offer coverage to these workers, they would benefit from federal enforcement.

This would basically put home health care workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act, where they should have been for a long time.

Labor unions and advocates for low-wage workers have pushed for the changes, asserting that the 37-year-old exemption improperly swept these workers, who care for many elderly and disabled Americans, into the same “companion” category as babysitters. In its announcement, the administration will call for home-care aides to be protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the nation’s main wage and hour law, as most other workers are […]

“The job they do is a real job and they deserve the same basic rights as any other workers,” said Steven Edelstein, national policy director of PHI PolicyWorks, a nonprofit group that seeks to improve conditions for home-care workers. “This industry has one of the nation’s fastest-growing work forces, and the challenge is to make these better jobs if we’re trying to attract good people to come and provide the services.”

Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis has made clear for several months that she was considering updating decades-old regulations in several areas, including the home-care industry. The changes the administration is to propose, which will be subject to 60 days of public comment, will mainly affect a low-paid group, largely made up of minority and immigrant women.

This is an unqualified advancement. There was no reason to exempt this class of workers, some of whom are fortunate enough to have union protections but many of whom don’t. And given the profile, you can see how this can be an exploited class when it comes to wages and hours. Republicans are whining about increased costs for Medicare and Medicaid, as well as for seniors, but that essentially says that people should have the right to rip off home health care workers in ways they cannot rip off any other service provider.

President Obama said in a statement, “The nearly 2 million in-home care workers across the country should not have to wait a moment longer for a fair wage. They work hard and play by the rules and they should see that work and responsibility rewarded. Today’s action will ensure that these men and women get paid fairly for a service that a growing number of older Americans couldn’t live without.”

Good for Hilda Solis and the Administration.

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David Dayen

David Dayen