3:12 PM Eastern - Monday, July 25, 2011

Homecare Workers: Your hands and your voices matter! #default

HomeCareRocks.jpgMany homecare workers, union and non-union alike, may not be aware that current labor regulations are denying them the same federal minimum wage and overtime protections that other workers enjoy.

Now you have a chance to help change this. The U.S. Department of Labor is holding a "listening session" and asking for public input this week on whether it should revise its Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations to finally include home care workers under its protections.

Chances are that many hired lobbyists are going to call in to protect their interests, but the Department of Labor really needs to hear from the more than 450,000 home care workers who have united with SEIU to strengthen both the quality of care they provide and the quality of their jobs. In state after state, we have united with consumer allies to improve the home care profession. Now we have a chance to do the same on a national level.

The sessions are being held on Monday, July 25 and Wednesday, July 27 from 4:00pm to 5:00pm EST. To participate, call (888) 730-9140 and enter the pass code 34478. If you decide to call in...

Here's what the Department of Labor needs to know:

We are proud of our profession and honored to care for our clients and consumers.

We depend upon this work to support our families. It is not a side job or a hobby.

We are our consumers hands, legs, and arms in many cases. We lift, we bathe, we dress, we prepare meals and we provide the daily services on which their lives and dignity depend.

This is hard work, it is crucially important work, and it is our profession.

We are not casual babysitters.

Thank you in advance for making your voice heard!

What is the Fair Labor Standards Act?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the 1938 US law that ensures workers receive the minimum wage and overtime pay. Unfortunately, home care workers do not enjoy these basic safeguards. In an ironic twist of fate, the very workers who care for seniors and people with disabilities are not protected by many of the most basic legal protections. Instead they are legally treated as if they were "casual" babysitters.

So, how in 2011 is it even legal for home care workers to be excluded from the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour?

Let's explore some history...

1938 - The FLSA is enacted to ensure a minimum standard of living for workers through the provision of minimum wages, overtime pay and other protections. Though there is only conjecture as to why, domestic workers were excluded.

1974 - The law was amended to include domestic employees, such as housekeepers, full-time nannies, chauffeurs, and cleaners. However people who were described as "companions to the elderly or infirm" were excluded from the law. Someone along the line explained this by arguing that all it did was exclude people who held jobs that were similar to "babysitters," who were also excluded.

1975 - The Department of Labor interprets this "companionship exemption" as including almost all direct-care workers in the home, no matter how demanding their jobs, no matter if the job is the worker's profession and career, no matter that the work was a part of an overall medical care system, and even where the home care workers were employed by third parties, such as home care agencies. Indeed, this was a cutback on the protections that had existed before 1974, since agency workers had been covered before the 1974 amendments.

2001 - The Clinton DOL finds that "significant changes in the home care industry" have occurred and issued a 'notice of proposed rulemaking" that would have made important changes to the exemption, bringing protections to many of these workers. The revision process was killed, unfortunately, by George W's incoming administration - whom most know by now were never friendly to labor.

2007 - The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the DOL's authority to define this exception to the FLSA through its regulations, and to make changes to those regulations.

Thus, since 2007, it has been clear that the DOL held the authority to update its regulations, narrowing this exception, which is the right thing for home care workers and the individuals and families who depend on their services.

The Department of Labor has stated that it is working on new regulations to narrow this "companionship services" exemption. Since 1974, a major home care industry and a rapidly growing home care occupation have developed that bear no relationship to "babysitting." We need to stress to the Department of Labor that it should bring basic minimum wage and overtime protections to this industry and this occupation.

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