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New York Wage Parity Law Upheld by U.S. Appeals Court

April 1, 2015

A New York law guaranteeing “wage parity” between the two leading home care worker occupations in New York City and surrounding counties does not violate federal law or the Constitution, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on March 27.

“The wage parity law is a valid exercise of New York’s authority to set minimum labor standards,” wrote Judge Debra Ann Livingston in the court’s unanimous decision (pdf).

She added that the law represents an “unexceptional exercise” of a state legislature’s authority to “set minimum labor standards.”

In 2011, New York lawmakers passed the wage parity law as part of the state’s Medicaid Redesign. The law is designed to equalize the wages between two categories of home care worker: home health aides and personal care aides (PCAs).

Home health aides are able to perform more care tasks than PCAs (also known as home attendants), must undergo a longer training period, and are certified to assist clients whose services are paid by Medicare.

But prior to wage parity and the Medicaid Redesign, the PCA workforce earned higher wages. This was due to earlier unionization and the fact that because their services were paid by New York City, PCAs were paid in accordance with the living wage laws in NYC, Long Island, and Westchester County.

The wage parity law gradually raised home health aides’ wages and benefit packages to be equal to those of PCAs in New York City and the surrounding counties.

In the case before the Second Circuit, the plaintiffs — five home care agencies and a trade organization — argued that the wage parity law was pre-empted by the federal National Labor Relations Act and the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, and that it violated the equal-protection and due-process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

A three-member panel of judges, however, sided with the state, thereby affirming the opinions of several lower courts, including the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division and the U.S. District Court for the Lower District of New York.

— by Matthew Ozga

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