White House Proposes Wage Protections for Home Care Workers

by Jon Melegrito  |  December 15, 2011

President Obama announces proposed changes to the FLSA
President Obama announces proposed changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that will guarantee wage protections for home care workers. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

It’s a new day for home care workers.

For 37 years, they have been exempted from minimum wage and overtime protections, unfairly subjecting them to low wages and poor benefits.

Today, the Obama administration proposed new rules that will guarantee these protections. At a White House event, the President announced that these workers – who provide back-breaking personal care assistance to many older adults and individuals with disabilities – will receive coverage under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Currently, they are ineligible under federal regulations because they are classified into the same “companion” category as babysitters.

“The nearly 2 million in-home care workers across the country should not have to wait a moment longer for a fair wage,” President Obama said. “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.”

In lauding the Obama administration’s action, AFSCME Pres. Gerald W. McEntee said: “In the wake of the worst recession in our lifetime, the denial of a basic minimum wage and no overtime is a double blow to the millions of home care workers who care for the most vulnerable in our society. This workforce is too critical to the independence and dignity of individuals with disabilities and older adults. Something had to be done to stabilize the workforce and address pay standards.”

Added U.S. Dept. of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis: “The care provided by in-home workers is crucial to the quality of life for many families. The proposed regulation would ensure that home health care workers’ work is properly classified so they receive appropriate compensation and that employers who have been treating these workers fairly are no longer at a competitive disadvantage.”

Elva Munoz, a home care worker from Lompoc, Calif., and a member of United Domestic Workers (AFSCME Local 3930), was one of eight AFSCME caregivers who attended the White House event. “I am proud of the work I do and I’m glad President Obama recognizes this,” she said. “Because of the proposed change in the rule, I will get paid fairly for the hours I work and will have the same rights that other workers enjoy.” Adds Elma Wauneetta Phillipps of Local 389 (New York Council 1707), who has been a home care provider for more than 30 years: “It’s about time and we’re blessed that President Obama is standing up for us.” It’s a sentiment shared as well by April Jones-Britt of Local 406 (Maryland Council 67).

Other AFSCME home care workers who participated in today’s ceremony include Local 389 members Manuela Butler, Bertie Caraway and Margaret Glover and United Domestic Workers Michelle Wise and Olive Nanette Lyons.

AFSCME, which has a historic role representing home care providers, has been pushing for changes in the FLSA, asserting that the job caregivers do is a real job and they deserve the same basic rights as other workers.

In July, AFSCME helped launched ‘Caring Across Generations,’ a national campaign to improve the future of long-term care in America. Among the movement’s goals is passage of the Direct Care Job Quality Improvement Act of 2011, which would ensure that home care providers have the same overtime and minimum wage protections available to other workers. According to a recent PHI report, the home care and personal assistance workforce is the largest and fastest growing in the nation.

AFSCME represents approximately 125,000 home care providers nationwide, including 4,600 independent providers represented by AFSCME Council 67 in Maryland.

The proposed changes – part of President Obama’s executive actions to improve the nation’s economy – are expected to take effect early next year, after a 60-day public comment period.

Watch the video from the White House blog:

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