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Remembering Evelyn Coke, 9 Years After the Supreme Court’s Coke Decision

June 8, 2016

Home care workers, consumers, and advocates will remember home care worker Evelyn Coke‘s battle for fair wages this June 11, the ninth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Long Island Care at Home v. Coke case.

In the years since Coke took her courageous stand to the nation’s highest court, PHI and other organizations have led a successful national advocacy campaign to secure basic wage protections for home care workers.

Today, following a 2013 U.S. Department of Labor rule change, home care workers across the country are finally entitled to those protections.

Implementation Begins in the States

The next step is for states to thoughtfully implement this change by properly budgeting for minimum wage and time-and-a-half overtime pay for home care workers, many of whom are paid through Medicaid.

In New York, for example, state officials are surveying home care agencies to determine how much they should raise Medicaid reimbursement rates in order to meet increased labor costs.

The state has already raised reimbursement rates slightly to cover wages for live-in aides and to allow agencies to compensate workers for travel time.

“This money makes a difference to me because I’m getting back what I spend every day to travel from one client to another, and I’m thankful for small mercies,” said home health aide Cecilla Jeffrey of Cooperative Home Care Associates.

California, Massachusetts, and several other states have made good-faith efforts to pay home care workers fairly. (These states and others are highlighted in an April 2016 National Employment Law Project fact sheet, The USDOL Home Care Rules: What Does Good Implementation Look Like?)

Challenges Remain

However, other states are “complying” with the new policy by imposing caps on home care workers’ hours, thus preventing them from earning overtime pay — and degrading care quality for consumers.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has yet to respond to a petition from the home care industry calling for a review of a lower court’s decision which upheld fair pay for home care workers.

Nearly seven years after her death, Evelyn Coke’s battle for fair pay continues. But thanks to her, we are closer than ever to achieving that goal.

— by Matthew Ozga

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