Obama Takes Care of Home-Care Workers

By: Ryan Eden

A few weeks ago, President Obama passed legislation that provides for protections for health and personal care workers under the NLRA.[1]  While most of the media attention in recent weeks towards government has been focused on the shutdown, millions of workers in a booming industry took notice of the bill that expands the coverage of the Fair Labor Standards Act.  For those newly protected, home-care workers who assist the elderly and those confined to their homes or facilities as a result of illness or disability, the new legislation is a big victory after having been previously rejected for such protections several times over the past few years. [2]

The field of home-care is one of the largest growth industries in the nation, having reported for about 30% of the approximately 32,700 new health care positions that were reported this past August.[3]  There are currently around 2 million home-care workers in the United States, mostly comprised of women and immigrant workers.[4]  Growth is not expected to slow down either, as the number of elderly only continues to grow due to medical advances and improved quality of life standards over the past couple decades.[5]  Despite the industries large numbers and its projected growth, the industry is one of the lowest wage fields in the nation.[6]  The coverage provided by the extension of the Fair Labor Standards Act should aid in the category, providing for regulations including the enforcement of the minimum wage and overtime hours.  The law will take effect January of 2015.[7]

Since the extension of the Fair Labor Standards Act by President Obama, the rights of home-care workers in the state of California have been even more greatly increased as a result of the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights just a week later.[8]  The act will provide for minimum wage and overtime protection for the approximately 100,000 domestic workers in the state.[9]  The California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights will go into effect this upcoming January.[10]

Aside from a victory just for home-care workers, the expansion of the Fair Labor Standards Act is also seen as a much needed change for what many consider to be one of the most racially divisive and morally compromised laws of this nation.[11]  When Franklin Roosevelt passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, it came at a cost due to negotiations with southern states.  In order to get the southern Democrats to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act Roosevelt needed to concede that agricultural and domestic workers, most of which were minority citizens or immigrants, would be excluded from the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act.[12]  While the recently enacted bill does not entirely mend the damage that has resulted from the exclusion of agricultural and domestic workers, it is an optimistic sign that there may be change on the horizon, heightened by California’s subsequent passage of the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

[1] Steven Greenhouse, U.S. to Include Home Care Aides in Wage and Overtime Law, New York Times, September 17, 2013, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/18/business/us-to-include-home-care-workers-in-wage-and-overtime-law.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Alyssa Gerace, Home Care Sector Grabs 30% of August Health Care Job Growth, Home Health Care News, September 10, 2013, available at http://homehealthcarenews.com/2013/09/home-care-sector-grabs-30-of-august-health-care-job-growth/.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Anthony Tucci, U.S. Department of Labor Extends Minimum Wage & Overtime Protections to Home-Care Workers; California Goes a Step Further, September 30, 2013, available at http://www.unioncounsel.net/developments/private_sector/us_department_of_labor_extends.html

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] David Callahan, Obama Just Changed the Most Racist Law in the Country, The American Prospect, September 18, 2013, available at http://prospect.org/article/obama-just-changed-most-racist-law-country.

[12] Id.

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