NEW YORK, January 14, 2015 – Judge Richard Leon of the DC District Court ruled today that the Department of Labor cannot grant a majority of home care workers minimum wage and overtime protections, writing that the Department of Labor cannot redefine “companionship services.”
With this ruling, home care workers around the country may have to wait even longer for basic labor protections that could lift them out of poverty.
States should not wait until this dispute is resolved. States, in fact, have the tools they need and must do the right thing by granting home care workers the same job protections as other workers.
Implementing the Department of Labor’s new home care rule, with the broadened definition of companionship services, would be an essential first step toward creating a sustainable home care workforce that benefits both consumers and workers. With more than 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, the demand for home care workers will only grow in coming years, and a stable home care workforce is becoming increasingly necessary to meet this sky-rocketing demand.
“Without the assistance of my attendants, I would not be able to live in my home and stay in my community,” said Nikki Brown-Booker of Oakland, California. “They provide invaluable support that has allowed me to live on my own, get a graduate degree, and work as a marriage and family therapist. They all work tirelessly, but because they are paid through the state home care program, I have no say in their wages. All home attendants deserve a livable wage and overtime pay for the long hours they work. I’d hate to lose any of my attendants. In order for this work to be sustainable, workers must make enough to be able to support themselves.”
“This rule means the difference between constantly worrying about my bills and having a little breathing room,” said home care worker Emily Uy from Los Angeles, California. “Home care workers like me are the backbone of the care system that allows seniors and people with disabilities to remain in their homes and communities. At home, people are more comfortable, happier, and can continue to be an active part of their neighborhoods. We always put our clients first, but this is still a job. At the end of the day I still need to feed my family. We deserve the same job protections as everyone else.”
“This ruling has a real impact on people’s lives,” said Sarita Gupta, co-director of Caring Across Generations. “With median hourly wages of just $9.61, home care workers are among the lowest-paid workers in the country, placing them and their families in poverty even while they work long hours to support others. We need to ensure that these workers are afforded the same basic protections that most Americans take for granted if we stand a chance at sustaining this workforce. Regardless of today’s ruling, we’ll continue to work state by state to make this a reality.”
In winter 2014, three major profitable home care associations, in the name of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, filed a lawsuit against the Department of Labor claiming that the DOL did not have the power to take this action to protect workers. Despite precedent, the home care associations claimed in their lawsuit that DOL cannot redefine “companionship services” and cannot reverse the outdated rule that exempted agencies from paying millions of workers at least the federal minimum wage and overtime — a rule that has not changed in decades despite major changes in the economy, our nation’s shifting demographics, and the very nature of home care work.
Understanding the complexity of state implementation, local advocates have been working diligently to ensure progress within their states. States had been making strides toward compliance with the home care rule. This ruling threatens to halt the momentum that has been built in order to bring justice to home care workers and to ensure quality care for consumers.