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REPORT: Home Care Workers and Advocates Say “We Can’t Wait” for Fair Pay

April 19, 2013

“I have never seen such a clear instance in which we have for many years accepted and condoned the exploitation of literally millions of people,” said Bruce Vladeck, the director of Medicaid and Medicare under the Clinton Administration, at a press briefing calling for the release of a final Department of Labor regulation extending minimum wage and overtime to home care aides.

Vladeck is one of over 40 stakeholders — including home care workers, consumers, employers, and advocates — who argue for fair pay for home care aides in a new report (pdf) compiled by PHI.

“We Can’t Wait: Americans Speak Out for Fair Pay for Home Care Workers” presents more than 40 stories explaining why the Obama Administration should fulfill its promise to amend the federal “companionship exemption.”

A provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the exemption allows home care employers to legally deny minimum-wage and overtime pay to home care workers.

Stories of Care

Many of the stories in “We Can’t Wait” emphasize the critical assistance that home care workers provide to their consumers.

“Over the last year, I’ve watched the health of my grandparents decline to the point where they need home health aides to keep them functional in their own home,” writes David Levitus of California.

“I’ve seen how indispensable these women are to my grandparents’ health and happiness,” Levitus continues. “These are hard-working people who deserve the same legal protections other workers enjoy.”

Workers emphasize the caring relationships they have with their consumers.

Laura Lynn Clark, a home care worker from Virginia, wrote that she has cared for a woman with a disability for the last 10 years.

“I cook her breakfast, feed her, wash dishes, make up her bed and wash her clothes three to four times a week,” she writes. “You name it and I most likely do it for her…. Basic overtime protection would make sure I am paid for all of the hours I work.”

Virginia is one of 29 states that do not guarantee minimum-wage or overtime protections to home care workers.

Urgent Need to Attract Workers

“The aging baby-boomer generation will create demand for an estimated 1.3 million additional home care workers over the next decade,” said PHI Government Affairs Director Carol Regan. “Yet it will be impossible to attract talented people to this workforce if they aren’t even guaranteed a minimum wage.”

As demand for home care rises, wages for home care workers have declined. Home care workers earned a median wage of just $9.91 an hour in 2011, down from an inflation-adjusted median of $11.14 in 2001.

“This is an issue of simple fairness and justice,” Regan said. “By finally extending basic wage protections to home care workers, the Obama Administration can significantly improve these women’s lives and the care and support they provide to millions of American families.”

The stories in “We Can’t Wait” were assembled with the help of:

  • The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
  • Bend the Arc
  • Caring Across Generations
  • Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Association
  • National Employment Law Project (NELP)
  • Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

— by Matthew Ozga


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