I recognize you do amazing work, but you’re still not getting minimum wage

Image: Richard NegriSomeone sent me an email earlier entitled, “U.S. Senate Declares National Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week.”

The big week of recognition is slotted to begin September 12th.

In the announcement for “Recognition Week,” Senator Ben Nelson says, “Direct support professionals provide an invaluable service to the millions of Americans living with disabilities. I’m proud to honor these hard-working individuals who give so much to help those in need. Their dedication to service is an example to us all.”

So, bravo to the Senate for marking a week in September to honor these workers, but honor and a week of applause doesn’t pay the bills. Surely, they must know this.

While the Senate “recognizes” these workers, more than 1.5 million home care workers are currently living at near-poverty level earning a median income of $17,000 a year. Most of these workers, who both love their work and are good at their work, must have two and three jobs to just make ends meet. Many of these workers need food stamps to put food on their tables. All this ultimately hurts the consumer, who often finds it difficult to find and retain high quality home care services.

Home care workers–the folks who provide essential care and services to more than 13 million seniors and people with disabilities every day–are legally excluded from federal minimum wage and overtime protections.

While we should definitely celebrate these workers’ contribution to society, we should also recognize their needs as working people. Perhaps we should help them get out from near poverty levels and give them the right to have a day off from time to time to take care of their own families? Why shouldn’t they be paid overtime when they work 70 and 80 hours a week with sleepovers as part of the gig?

I’ve mentioned this before in other entries but it is worth repeating: the U.S. Department of Labor has the authority to make this long overdue regulatory change and do the right thing for home care workers and the individuals and families who depend on their services. In other words, they have the authority to turn this around so that home care workers can enjoy the same benefits many take for granted.

What we need to do to bring this change about is let people know that this issue even exists, and second, we need take some very basic actions online.

On Facebook, become a fan of the Department of Labor’s Facebook page and post this message:

Secretary Solis, home care workers deserve minimum wage and overtime protection. It’s time to change the companionship exemption regulations: http://bit.ly/a5pF1e

On Twitter, copy, paste, and tweet this message:

@HildaSolisDOL, it’s time to end the exclusion of home care workers from minimum wage and overtime exemption: http://bit.ly/a5pF1e

On Facebook, you should also become a fan of this campaign’s page:

Homecare Workers Deserve Minimum Wage Protection.

Here’s some legal background on how home care workers came to be legally excluded from federal minimum wage and overtime protections:

* 1938 – The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (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 Department of Labor (DOL) interprets the “companionship exemption” as including almost all home care workers , even those employed by third parties such as home care agencies.

2001 – The Clinton 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 US Supreme Court, in a case brought by New York home care attendant Evelyn Coke, upholds the DOL’s authority to define exceptions to FLSA.

Today: We are calling on DOL Secretary Hilda Solis to ensure that home care workers receive basic labor protections.

Together we can create the same labor protections for home care workers that virtually ever other worker in the economy enjoys.

About the Author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.