Home Care Wage Battle Heats Up in California

Home care workers in the nation’s most populous state will receive overtime pay in early 2016 — and, if a proposed ballot initiative succeeds, a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

The California Department of Social Services (DSS) has announced that the state will start paying overtime wages to home health workers on Feb. 1, 2016.

More than 500,000 California residents receive in-home care services from the more than 400,000 home care workers in the state, according to a release from the DSS.

The announcement means the state will use some of the $270 million set aside in the present 2015-2016 budget to pay for overtime expenses in the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program, according to The Sacramento Bee. The budget appropriation was made under the assumption that California would start paying overtime on Oct. 1.

By Feb. 1, 2016, the California DSS also plans to add a new IHSS service category for accompaniment to medical appointments, and to enable payment for travel incurred while serving several recipients on the same day.

A U.S. Department of Labor rule that extends overtime and minimum wage protections to about 2 million home health workers took effect on Oct. 13. This was after the Supreme Court denied an emergency request from three home care industry trade groups that alleged the rules threaten home care agencies.

Still, the DOL is not scheduled to actively enforce the rule until Nov. 12, with full enforcement starting Jan. 1, 2016.

In a statement, Laphonza Butler, president of SEIU California and president of SEIU Local 2015, expressed discontent with the decision to delay enforcement in California until Feb. 1.

“We welcome the opportunity to continue working with the Department of Social Services and the consumer representatives to ensure the successful implementation of the overtime regulation, but believe that caregivers deserve overtime payment for work being performed now,” Butler said.

Meanwhile, the the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) California, along with Fight for $15 worker leaders, have announced a new proposed ballot initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2020 and ensure that every full-time worker receive at least six sick days per year. Small businesses would have to meet the $15-an-hour minimum by 2021.

SEIU California is aiming to have its proposal on the November 2016 ballot, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Raise California’s Wage and Paid Sick Days Act of 2016 guarantees that providers of in-home supportive services are eligible for paid sick leave for the same purposes and at the same rates as the majority of other California employees. The initiative would also ensure that in-home caregivers are rendered eligible for the same minimum wage and compensation standards.

The proposed ballot initiative represents another step in the Fight for $15 national movement, which has won wage increases for about 11 million workers across the country so far, according to SEIU California.

SEIU California represents more than 700,000 workers in 15 local unions, and is a partner of the Fight for $15 movement.

If the proposed ballot initiative eventually becomes law, California would not be the first state to guarantee its home health workers a $15-per-hour minimum wage. In June, Massachusetts became the first state to enact a $15-an-hour minimum starting wage for its home care workers.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson