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Home Care Workers Need Labor Law’s Protection

The nearly 2 million home care workers—about 92 percent of whom are women—who take care of the elderly and people with disabilities often work 12-hour days and 60 to 70 hours a week. But they are seldom paid overtime and their net income is often less than the minimum wage. Unlike workers covered by federal labor laws, they are not paid for all the hours they are on the clock, witnesses told a U.S. House hearing Tuesday.

Because of a 45-year-old rule, home care workers are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage, overtime and other provisions. In December the Obama administration proposed a rule to bring home care workers under the law’s protection.

Catherine Ruckelshaus, National Employment Law Project (NELP) legal co-director, told the House Education and Workforce Committee:

The poverty wages that typify the home care industry contribute to high employee turnover rates which are costly, threaten quality of care and can increase workloads and lower morale.…Long hours can also result in worse care for patients, as care-givers working 60- or 70-hour weeks face fatigue and stress performing what is a demanding job under any circumstances.

Click here for her full testimony.

Nancy Leppink, deputy administrator for the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, told the committee:

The earnings of employees working as home health aides and as personal care aides remain among the lowest in the service industry….They work hard to take care of our families and neighbors, yet nearly 40 percent of in-home care workers have to rely on food stamps or other forms of public assistance in order to make ends meet.

She also said the cost of the rule to employers would be negligible, “less than one-fourth of 1 percent of the industry’s annual revenues.” Click here for her testimony.

Republicans on the panel and witnesses from the home care industry opposed the proposed rule.

When the rule was proposed, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called it “a long-overdue matter of basic justice for the hundreds of thousands of workers who do the vital work of providing at-home care for our nation’s elderly and disabled citizens.”

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