PRESS STATEMENT by PHI President Jodi M. Sturgeon: 75 Years After President Roosevelt Signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, Home Care Workers Still Excluded
PHI Calls on President Obama to Honor Pledge to Extend Minimum Wage and Overtime to Home Care Aides
June 25th marks the 75th anniversary of the nation's bedrock labor law, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Around the country, advocates are calling for an increase in the minimum wage, but for home care aides, the nation's fastest-growing workforce, an increase in the minimum wage won't help. These low-wage workers are explicitly excluded from minimum wage, overtime, and other worker protections provided under FLSA through the companionship exemption.
Eighteen months have passed since December 11, 2011, when President Obama — with home care workers, providers, consumers, and advocates by his side — pledged to revise the companionship exemption. That exemption was added to the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1974, when the law was expanded to cover domestic workers, including housekeepers, full-time nannies, chauffeurs, and cleaners. However, the law made an exception for teenage babysitters and those who provide "care and fellowship" for the "elderly and infirm."
Forty years later, the industry has changed dramatically — and the jobs of home care workers have changed along with it. With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 each day, for-profit, non-medical home care agencies are making dramatic profits, while taking advantage of the artificially low price of labor. The $84 billion industry (pdf) pays its workers, on average, $9.40 per hour. Though most home care aides technically earn above minimum wage, many take home less because of time and money spent traveling between clients. Without FLSA coverage, employers are not obligated to cover travel between clients, which can be lengthy and expensive in rural areas.
Home care workers provide a vital service to America's families. It is a job that requires training and skill to be done well, and one that is in increasingly high demand. The latest projections from the Department of Labor show home health aides and personal care aides as the nation's two fastest growing occupations — with 69 and 70 percent growth, respectively, between 2010 and 2020. Yet, with these jobs consigning workers to poverty — half must rely on public benefits (pdf) to support their families — it will be increasingly difficult to recruit workers to these jobs.
When President Obama announced that his administration would finally extend FLSA protections to the home care workforce, he said, "the nearly 2 million in-home workers across the country should not have to wait a moment longer for a fair wage. They work hard and play by the rules and they should see that work and responsibility rewarded."
A year and a half after President Obama announced that the Department of Labor was issuing a revised rule, the workers are still waiting. The Administration should move quickly to ensure basic American labor protections for these workers, who help millions of Americans every day but often don't earn enough to support their own families.
For too long, home care workers have been denied the respect and dignity conferred by the Fair Labor Standards Act. It would be wonderful to see the administration announce its final rule to extend these fundamental labor protections to home care aides on this important anniversary.
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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, firstname.lastname@example.org, (646) 285-1039