Over a year ago, President Obama announced that new Labor Department rules would guarantee home care workers minimum-wage and overtime-pay protections. The move would undo a nearly 40-year-old rule that defines home care workers as “companions,” a label that exempts employers from having to pay them the minimum wage and time and a half for overtime.
The proposed rules, however, are still not final. The rule-making process was long delayed, in part by the administration’s apparent reluctance to advance rules during the election year, perhaps for fear of being seen as anti-business. Last month, the Labor Department finally sent its rules to the White House Office of Management and Budget — the last step in the review process before they are approved.
This has led to new lobbying by opponents, including for-profit home care agencies that say having to meet federal pay standards would hurt their businesses. In the past, the state of California has also opposed the rules, saying they would harm its health care budget.
Those objections have been aired before, and either rebutted or accommodated. But the budget office is a political agency, not a regulator. There is a real danger that in this late round the long fight to extend basic labor protections to home care workers could be lost.
That would be a great injustice. The $84 billion home care industry supplies workers, not companions, who provide bodily care and housekeeping to the elderly and disabled. The companionship exemption amounts to an institutionalized form of sexism, racism and exploitation, given that most home care workers are women, often African-American or Hispanic, and immigrants. California, or any other state, cannot expect to balance its budget on the backs of exploited labor.
If the promise of minimum-wage and overtime protections for home care workers is ever to be fulfilled, Mr. Obama himself will have to push the new rules over the finish line.
Source: The New York Times