Home Care Workers Could Be the New Face of Labor

With surging demand for home care workers, unions are sensing an opportunity to get involved by helping workers in the industry to organize—upping their own membership in the process.

But there’s not a clear path to unionizing the sector, writes the Wall Street Journal, as some question whether home health aides qualify to join a union, especially as many are caring for family members and could even be considered self-employed. 

As a result, some legislative battles have taken place in a few states either allowing or barring these workers from organizing.

By 2020, the Department of Labor projects the number of home health workers to reach 3.2 million, up almost 70% from 2010’s 1.9 million. The median hourly wage for these workers was $9.70 in 2010, and many lack health care coverage. 

“A large percentage of these workers are hired directly by people with disabilities or their families, rather than wing employed by private agencies,” says the WSJ article. In Michigan, for example, a state-commissioned 2011 study revealed that 75% of home care workers there began providing those services to help a family member or friend.

On the one hand, unions and many Democratic lawmakers believe workers receiving public funds—such as Medicaid or Medicare reimbursement—for their labor are technically state employees and have the ability to organize, says the WSJ. But many Republican lawmakers counter with the argument that personal care aides are independent contractors and ineligible for union membership. 

In May, Minnesota Democrats passed a bill giving the state’s 15,000 home health care workers along with 7,000 home child care providers the right to organize, while a similar measure in Vermont was recently signed by the state’s Democratic governor permitting the state’s 7,000 home health aides to unionize, reports the WSJ. 

Meanwhile, Republicans in other estates have blocked or overturned efforts to allow home health workers to organize, the article continues, citing Wisconsin and Ohio. 

Union membership has been declining for years, the home health industry presents a large pool of potential new members. Already, about 25% of home care workers belong to unions across the country, according to Eileen Boris, a professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara. She says the unionization of home care workers is comparable to when factory workers unionized in the 1930s and ’40s. 

“Home-care workers are the new face of labor,” Boris told the WSJ.

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Written by Alyssa Gerace

Alyssa Gerace

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