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Home Care Wage Rule Defended Before Federal Appeals Court

May 8, 2015

Home care workers, consumers, and advocates on May 7 gathered outside a federal appeals courthouse in Washington, DC, while inside, lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice argued that basic wage protections should be extended to home care workers under federal law.

“Whether it’s the care we provide, the care we receive, or the care we coordinate for our parents and loved ones, this case…affects all of us,” Robert Espinoza, PHI vice president of policy, said outside the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse, which houses the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

In 2013, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued a rule change that would amend the “companionship exemption” of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. That exemption had long excluded home care workers from minimum wage and time-and-a-half overtime pay laws. The rule change, scheduled to take effect in January 2015, would have finally granted home care workers those basic rights.

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But in mid-January, a federal judge sided with the for-profit home care industry, which had brought a lawsuit against the DOL to halt the rule change before it could take effect.

Following the oral arguments inside the courthouse, gatherers outside held a press conference, during which workers, consumers, and advocates spoke in favor of basic wage protections for home care workers — and for higher wages for home care jobs in general.

“These jobs are critical, and as an employer I firmly believe that our workers deserve fair wages and benefits,” said Marla Lahat, executive director of Home Care Partners, a Washington home care agency. Lahat added that her agency is “very proud” to pay all of its home care workers at least $13.80/hour — the living wage in Washington — plus benefits and overtime pay.

[Home care worker D'Rosa Davis]“I believe that the companionship exemption should be eliminated,” Lahat added.

Meanwhile, D’Rosa Davis, a home care worker from Atlanta, said that she has been a home care worker for eight years and earns just $9/hour, with no overtime pay.

“My family is just scraping by,” Davis said. “Like any mom, I want to be able to spend time with my kids and afford the things that they need. But with just $9 an hour, what choice do I have?”

A recording of the full oral arguments in the case, Home Care Association v. Weil, is available online. Statements from many of the press conference participants are also available (pdf).

— by Matthew Ozga

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