During the first week on my new union staff job in 2010, I was assigned to work on an already up-and-running home care workers campaign to get them minimum wage and overtime protections. At the time, I was an online organizer. I went on a crash course to learn about the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and began to hear from workers and their clients (the people they care for).
The first thing I came to understand is that many people don’t usually think about home care workers until our parents and grandparents actually need their services. Home care workers are the ones in patients’ home dealing with the most intimate responsibilities and who believe that everyone – no matter what their age or illness – deserve proper care, companionship, and love. And day in and day out, they deliver!
In 2010, what many people didn’t realize (me included) was that these workers were excluded from minimum wage and overtime protections. Despite the intense and often thankless work taking care of our loved ones when we are not able to do so, many have had to have two or three jobs just to make ends meet.
Today, these workers are finally getting what they should have had years ago. After a U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a Department of Labor (DOL) Home Care Final Rule to extend minimum wage and overtime protections to almost 2 million home care workers, the ruling is effective as of today, October 13, 2015.
Seventy-seven years since the FLSA was enacted, the DOL said it believes “the Rule is the right policy – both for those employees, who demanding work merits these fundamental wage guarantees, and for recipients of services, who deserve a stable and professional workforce allowing them to remain in their homes and communities.”
The Final Rule – though issued in October 2013 – was met with a lawsuit in June 2014. By late 2014 and early 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon issued opinions and orders vacating the Final Rule’s revised third party regulations and revised definition of companionship services. The DOL appealed in Home Care Association v. Weil, No. 15-5018 (D.C. Cir.), and it won when on August 21 the Court of Appeals issued a unanimous opinion affirming the validity of the Final Rule, reversing the district court’s orders.
The amazing steadfast determination of these workers to get their stories known and understood in and out of their communities is what raised the awareness of what they do on a daily basis, and how many have been unable to support themselves and their families with one full-time job not protected by the FSLA, a labor law that many of us have long taken for granted.
- 1938 – The FLSA is enacted to ensure a minimum standard of living for workers through the provision of a minimum wage, overtime pay, and other protections — but domestic workers are excluded.
- 1974 – The FLSA is amended to include domestic employees such as housekeepers, full-time nannies, chauffeurs, and cleaners. However, persons employed as “companions to the elderly or infirm” remain excluded from the law.
- 1975 – The DOL interprets the “companionship exemption” as including all direct-care workers in the home, even those employed by third parties such as home care agencies.
- 2001 – The DOL finds that “significant changes in the home care industry” have occurred and issues a “notice of proposed rulemaking” that would have made important changes to the exemption. The revision process is terminated, however, by the incoming Bush administration.
- 2007 – The U.S. Supreme Court, in a case brought by New York home care attendant Evelyn Coke, upholds the DOL’s authority to define exceptions to FLSA.
- 2013 – The DOL issues the Home Care Final Rule to extend minimum wage and overtime protections to almost 2 million home care workers.
- 2014 – The Home Care Association files a lawsuit challenging the Final Rule.
- 2015 – The U.S. Court of Appeals issues unanimous opinion affirming the Final Rule, reversing a lower court’s orders.