Thousands of low-wage workers participated in a country-wide ‘Day of Action’ on Tuesday as they lobbied to raise the federal minimum wage, but even if that were to happen, the nation’s 2.5 million home care workers won’t benefit—and that needs to change, says the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI).
Home care workers remain excluded from minimum wage and overtime protections standards under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) because of the “companionship exemption,” which has been in effect since 1974 and essentially considers home care workers to be “companions” to the elderly or infirm.
In December, President Obama proposed a new rule to revise the companionship exemption, but it still hasn’t been finalized and published in the Federal Register–the final step before implementation, PHI notes.
“Home care workers cannot wait any longer to be guaranteed minimum wage and overtime protections,” said Steve Edelstein, PHI national policy director, in a statement. “The Obama Administration must move quickly to ensure that home care workers, among the lowest paid workers in the nation, are no longer consigned to poverty by the antiquated companionship exemption. The rapidly growing $84 billion home care industry doesn’t need this subsidy to remain profitable.”
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has tried before to revise the rule, at the end of President Clinton’s term, but the incoming Bush Administration undid the effort and PHI is worried the same thing could happen if President Obama doesn’t win a second term in the upcoming election.
During the public comment period that followed the release of the proposed rule, the DOL received more than 26,000 comments—19,000 of which were in favor of extending the federal minimum wage protections to home care workers, says the institute.
Previous PHI research has shown that half of home care workers earn poverty level wages and depend on public assistance to make ends meet. It’s the fastest growing occupation in the nation, and is expected to be among the top occupation to generate the most new jobs by 2020.
Written by Alyssa Gerace