Workers welcome Obama’s new home health care rules


WASHINGTON - Laura Lyn Clark toils more than 100 hours a week, and she gets paid $8.87 per hour - and that's for the first 40 of them.

She doesn't get overtime pay. Her health insurance may come from Medicaid. She hasn't had a vacation. She doesn't know if she'll be able to send her daughter to college. And retirement? Forget it. She hasn't been able to sock money away.

Soon, she will. Clark, you see, is a home health care worker in Virginia. But she's also one of the more than two million such workers who will, under final rules the Obama administration's Labor Department unveiled on Sept. 17, get paid at least the minimum wage - and overtime.

The rules, from Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division, cover home health care aides, personal care aides and certified nursing assistants. They may not cover a minority of home health care workers for the elderly employed by individual families - or a developing "grey market" of workers whom families hire, outside the home health care system, by advertising in newspapers and on Craigslist. But they cover most workers for individual families and all workers employed by agencies and sent to families.

"We do work hard for very little. You can't go far on $8.87 an hour," Clark told a telephone press conference on the rules. Clark loves her work caring for the elderly. "Everything you do for yourself and take for granted, I do for her," Clark says of her employer. But the rules, she said, "will allow workers like me to get what they need."

"If I work overtime, I'll get overtime," added Florida home health care worker Carolyn Gay, who often receives word-of-mouth referrals to new clients through her church. "This has to be advertised and I'll have to tell my clients."

Unions, workers' rights groups and women's rights groups lobbied hard for the new rules, which President Obama first proposed in Dec. 2011. Some 90 percent of the home health care workers are female and half are minorities. Thus, union leaders cheered the unveiling of the Obama Labor Department's final rules.

"Congress intended these hard working individuals, whose labor is often physically and emotionally demanding, have the protection of our nation's most basic labor standards - the right to be paid a minimum wage and receive more for working overtime," AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said in a statement.

"Yet since 1975, the Labor Department allowed an entire, fast-growing industry to operate outside the law. Today, with the active support of a wide array of advocates, the Obama administration corrected this historic injustice."

"Denying these workers basic wage and hour protections is not right," AFSCME secretary-treasurer Laura Reyes, herself a former home care worker, told the telephone press conference. "This rule corrects long-standing injustice."

Giving the home health care workers "a minimum wage provides a floor and starts to create a pathway out of poverty" for the workers and their families, Ai-Jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, told the press conference. "It'll transform these jobs into living wage jobs. This is a long-overdue show of respect for women in the workplace and for the important work of supporting seniors and people with disabilities."

Extending the minimum wage and overtime pay is "a major victory" not just for the present home health care workers, but for "the millions more who will be needed" in coming years as the U.S. population ages, noted Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs With Justice, in a statement.

"As a care worker I am grateful I will finally have the same protections as other workers do so I can continue to provide the best support to my clients," said Myrla Baldonado, a former home health care worker, now a household worker organizer with Latino Union in Chicago. Her union, along with NDWA, is lobbying the Illinois legislature to enact the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, modeled on legislation New York already enacted. California's bill of rights is headed for Gov. Jerry Brown, D.

"This is a step forward both for quality home care and for the good jobs America needs," said Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry in a statement. "For too long this vital occupation has been treated as marginal and casual work to be performed under poverty conditions...even as the occupation has become among the fastest growing and most vitally important within the American health care system. Home care work is now the second-fastest growing job in America, but the majority of home care workers earn poverty wages, no benefits, and no healthcare coverage."

To try to change that, SEIU financed and fought a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing the minimum wage law should cover workers such as the home health care aide it represented, the late Evelyn Coke, a Jamaican immigrant then working, via an agency, for an elderly client on Long Island. Ms. Coke and SEIU lost.

"Our hope is the new rule will improve the quality of home care by reducing turnover and increasing the number of committed workers who enter and stay in the home care profession, creating a foundation on which truly quality care can be built," Henry added. She noted that the Labor Department cited that goal as one reason for the new rule: "To encourage home care employers and state health care programs to recruit and retain a broader base of home care workers to meet consumer demand."

One speaker at the telephone press conference, the owner of a small home health care agency in D.C. who pays her workers at least $12.50 an hour, with benefits, confirmed that's true. Her annual workforce turnover, among 20 employees, is 15 percent. Elsewhere, it's 50 percent.

Debra Ness of the National Partnership for Women and Families, which also lobbied for the new rules, called them "a tremendous victory for home care workers, fair pay, quality care and the well-being of our nation. The home care workforce has been grossly undervalued for much too long...Nearly half of home care workers rely on public assistance to make ends meet because of poverty-level wages and few benefits. These regulations will help change this grave injustice and improve working conditions."

As might be expected, Republican business toadies screamed. House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., alleged DOL's new rule "will raise costs and limit access to in-home care."

Starting on Jan. 1, 2015, the new rule will "extend the Fair Labor Standards Act's minimum wage and overtime protections to most direct care workers who provide essential home care assistance," DOL said in a fact sheet. "It will help ensure that individuals and families who rely on the assistance of direct care workers have access to consistent and high quality care from a stable and increasingly professional workforce. Today, direct care workers are, for the most part, not the elder sitters Congress envisioned when it enacted the companionship services exemption (to FLSA) in 1974, but are instead professional caregivers."

Photo: Ai-Jen Poo and the National Domestic Workers Alliance participate in an action. Bekah Mandell

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  • I work several home health agency and only 2 of them pay overtime and holiday wish I hardly get because they Dont want to pay an an all the rest t I work more than 40 hours and only get straight time I love my job and the people I care for but I think its not fair what they pay us

    Posted by hanan, 11/03/2014 9:14am (1 year ago)

  • this law must be uniformly passed. In Florida Nurse registries will be allowed to side step the law the Rick Scott is about to pass. Only Home Health agencies will be tied to the law.
    Today 85% of Florida is run by Nurse registries. Companies that do not have employees, but independent contractors. They do not pay the taxes, workers comp, Medicare, unemployment, social security or Liability insurance.
    Home Health care agencies do pay all the above. Yet this new law on overtime will exempt the registries and only hit the Agencies which are already paying into the system.
    Florida needs more revenue, make all health care companies mandate W@ employees. Do not allow companies to skirt the tax obligation and now skirt paying overtime.
    By adding overtime to home healthcare you are increasing the cost for Seniors to stay in their home. Companies will raise their costs to pay the overtime, and Seniors on fixed incomes will have to pay more or sell their home to move into a facility. Instead of one on one care they will get in an assisted Living one caregiver per every 18-22 residents. Not a fair trade off. The true loser in this will be the Senior Citizens on fixed income. They will either have to go to a facility due to the sharp increase in costs or hire a private aide or a nurse registry which does not protect the client form basic needs and checks. There is a lot more to this than just having one part of an industry pay Overtime.

    Posted by Mihcael M. Florida, 04/30/2014 3:50pm (2 years ago)

  • There are alot of places just paying 7.50 an hour which is minimum wage we still have bills like everyone else. i wouldnt mind working for 8 or 9 dollars an hour. when will they see we work hard for patients.

    Posted by chelik, 01/09/2014 4:27pm (2 years ago)

  • its about time they get paid for what they do.

    Posted by Richard, 09/26/2013 7:29pm (2 years ago)

  • There is no doubt that workers deserve basic labor protections. These workplace protections were designed over time to protect individuals. Working for 12 hour straight, without a break is a daunting task.

    However, home care workers do not work in a hospital environment, on their feet every minute of every hour at the hospital. One of the greatest benefits of working in the home care business is the comfort and flexibility of working in a home. Clients are typically more than happy to accommodate a caretakers personal needs. More often than not, families who trust a caregiver with their loved one would be more than happy to increase wages for their caretakers.

    Many seniors and the disabled who depend on this care to remain in their homes are often on fixed incomes. They do not have the luxury of increasing their incomes or assets in order to pay for an increase in cost of care.

    A family who relays on a caregiver for a 12 hour shift will now be required to pay overtime after 8 hours. Now seniors will either decide to CUT the workers hours from 12 down to 8 hour shifts because of the increased cost due to the overtime provision. This effectively reduces a caretakers earning potential by 33%. The other option families will have is instead of having 1 caretaker for 12 hours, they will hire 2 caregivers to each work a 6 hour shift. By splitting the 12 hour shift between 2 separate caregivers, the family will maintain 12 hours of care and maintain the cost. The one downfall to the family and client is the family will need to accept 2 separate caregivers. This presents a very difficult challenge for those who suffer from Alzheimer's or other cognitive impairments.

    The individuals who will suffer the most from these changes will be the domestic workers themselves. Instead of working 12 hour shifts, a caregiver will be able to work an 8 hour shift, a 33% reduction in their hours or potentially work a 6 hour shift, a 50% reduction in their hours and wages.

    Unfortunately, the caretaker cited in this article who works 100 hours a week makes about $887 per week, and would make about $46,000 per year. With the passing of this law, hours of domestic workers will be limited to 40 per week. Assuming the caregiver makes the same amount, $8.87 per hour at 40 hours per week, this same caregiver will make $354 per week or about $18,500 per year. This will not improve the working conditions or wages for domestic workers. This will limit access to care, increase cost to seniors and the disabled at the same time lowering domestic workers income and earning potential. This law, unfortunately will hurt more domestic workers than it will help.

    Posted by Senior Advocates, 09/24/2013 12:33am (2 years ago)

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