News Column

Home Care Workers Still Awaiting Reforms

July 25, 2013

Mark Salay--HispanicBusiness.com

Home care workers are seeking minimum-wage and overtime protections.
Home care workers are seeking minimum-wage and overtime protections.

Despite President Obama's guarantee to extend minimum-wage and overtime protection to home care workers in 2011, 18 months later many are still waiting for changes in the regulation to be finalized.

"We'd like to see President Obama keep his promise to home care workers and bring this administration to finalize pending regulations to extend minimum-wage and overtime protection to home care workers," Catherine Singley, senior policy analyst for the Economic and Employment Policy Project at National Council of La Raza, told HispanicBusiness.com.

Minimum wage and protection from overtime is guaranteed by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). But current guidelines exempt many home care workers from receiving this protection because of revisions made by Congress in 1974 that exclude "companionship services."

The companionship exemption was directed at babysitters and people who provide temporary assistance and not intended to include professional workers or those whose services were meant to be a full-time job, Ms. Singley said.

Nevertheless, because of the broad definition of companionship services outlined by Congress, many for-profit agencies have been allowed to include their home care workers in the exemption, despite performing tasks not characteristic of companions, she said. This has led to many home care workers being overworked without compensation by their agencies.

"We and many other advocates agree (that) the definition of companion, in order to exempt people from labor laws, is too broad," Ms. Singley said. "It actually inadvertently includes people whose professional lives and full-time jobs are to provide constant care to people with chronic disease and the elderly."

Fastest-growing job in America

As of now, personal care aide is the fastest-growing job in America and is projected to grow as the population ages. With a 71 percent growth rate, the occupation is expected to more than double between 2010 and 2020, mainly due to the demand from an aging American population that is estimated to reach 88.5 million by 2050.

Currently, Hispanics comprise 21 percent of personal care aides, but without proper wage security and overtime protection, Ms. Singley says, a significant segment of Hispanic workers are left without adequate resources to provide for their families and are vulnerable to a high turnover rate. In the last 30 years, for-profit care agencies have doubled their revenue while pay for workers has remained the same.

"Many of the workers we've spoken to who attend to the elderly or people with disabilities in a professional setting in their home really love the work they do," Ms. Singley said. "But without a minimum wage or a guarantee of some overtime protection, they just can't sustain the employment."

The planned adjustments to the FLSA by the U.S. Department of Labor would require agencies and families hiring worker's services to record honest accounts of a worker's hours to ensure accurate overtime hours are assessed.

In addition, minimum-wage and overtime protection to home care workers is guaranteed along with a more comprehensive definition of companionship services that certifies home care workers are not exempt. A more narrow definition would affirm that "companions" be restricted to activities that are in fact typical of companions and not include full-time employees.

"The definition of companion should really be restricted to those family members or neighbors who occasionally look in on a person with a disability or the elderly person," Ms. Singley said. "But not to live-in home care workers who are at people's side for everything from showering and dressing to feeding."

Vice President Joe Biden spoke about the need to amend the FLSA in June on the 75th anniversary of the act, calling for an increase in the minimum wage. Home care workers earn an average of $20,830 a year, compared the U.S. average of $45,790. This can be attributed to misappropriated overtime pay and limited full-time employment opportunities in the profession, she said.

Ms. Singley sees Mr. Biden's words as a sign of goodwill but notes that a final rule should have come by now.

"We see that as a good sign and we're encouraged by those words," Ms. Singley said. "But we hope to see those final regulations by the end of this month."

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Find out which U.S. Hispanic-owned companies are up and which are down on the 2013 HispanicBusiness Fastest-Growing 100 overview.



Source: HispanicBusiness.com (c) 2013. All rights reserved.


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