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PHI Decries Court Ruling Against Fair Pay for Home Care Workers

January 14, 2015

PHI is dismayed by today's federal district court decision to vacate the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Final Home Care Rule, extending basic minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers. Judge Richard Leon of the D.C. federal district court ruled in Home Care Association of America v. Weil that DOL does not have the authority to redefine the "companionship exemption," despite a contradictory 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision (see Long Island Care at Home v. Coke).

"We are deeply disturbed by Judge Leon's decision," said Jodi M. Sturgeon, president of PHI. "After three full years, the regulatory process has run its course, and America's 2 million home care workers should not have to wait any longer for fair pay.

"Home care aides do the vital work that ensures that millions of elders and people with disabilities can continue to live independently in their homes and communities with dignity. Home care workers should also be able to live with dignity — which includes having the security of protection under the same basic labor laws that apply to most workers across the nation."

In a December 22, 2014 ruling, Judge Leon vacated provisions of the rule (published in the Federal Register on October 1, 2013) that excluded third-party employers from taking advantage of the companionship exemption. The second phase of the case, which challenged the DOL's narrowing of the definition of companionship, was heard in court on January 9.

Under the new definition, which had been scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2015, workers qualify for an exemption from basic minimum wage and overtime protections only if their primary responsibilities are "fellowship and protection." The worker may not spend more than 20 percent of her time on personal care tasks, such as bathing, dressing, and toileting or tasks such as shopping, cooking, and cleaning. This narrowed definition of companionship — if allowed to take effect — would ensure that the vast majority of home care workers would be eligible for minimum wage and overtime pay, including compensation for travel time between clients.

The $90 billion home care industry has seen its revenues double over the last decade. Yet home care workers — 90 percent of whom are women and a majority of whom are women of color — earn poverty wages, which, when adjusted for inflation, have fallen by 5 percent over the last decade. With a median wage of $9.61 an hour, more than half of home care aides must rely on public benefits to support their families.

Home care occupations are expected to add over 1 million new jobs to our economy in the decade 2012-2022, more than any other occupation. However, attracting workers to these jobs has become increasingly difficult due to falling wages, inadequate training, and high rates of injury. Without the basic guarantee of minimum wage and overtime pay for these workers, families across the nation are more likely to find themselves without access to qualified workers right at the moment when they most need them.

"PHI firmly believes that minimum wage and overtime protection for home care workers is the right and just policy," said Sturgeon. "We expect Judge Leon's decision to be appealed, and that the rule will ultimately be upheld."

Therefore, as the lawsuit continues to proceed through the courts, PHI calls upon private home care employers and state Medicaid programs to embrace fair pay for home care workers — making necessary adjustments in their programs and services to extend minimum wage and overtime protections to this essential workforce while ensuring that consumers continue to get the services and supports they need. With ever-increasing demand for home care services, extending these basic labor protections is essential to providing the quality home care services we all want for ourselves and our loved ones.

For more information on the U.S. Department of Labor home care rule, visit the PHI Campaign for Fair Pay website and the DOL Home Care website.

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PHI, the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, works to transform eldercare and disability services, fostering dignity, respect, and independence — for all who receive care, and all who provide it. The nation's leading authority on the direct-care workforce, PHI promotes quality direct-care jobs as the foundation for quality care.

Deane Beebe, PHI Media Relations Director; 718-928-2033 (office); 646-285-1039 (cell)

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