By Liz Watson, Senior Counsel, National Women's Law Center
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Because of a new rule out today from the Department of Labor, home care workers will no longer be left out of the basic wage and hour protections guaranteed by the FLSA. Today’s rule extends wage and hour protections to all direct care workers employed by home care agencies and other third partiesThis is excellent news, and it’s about time!
The exclusion of home care workers from the FLSA is emblematic of all that is wrong with the way our society values (or doesn’t value) women’s work. This 90% female workforce does vitally important work for their clients, such as bathing, clothing, and administering medication. Yet, this work – like work in many female-dominated jobs – is among the most poorest paid. Home care workers typically earn below $10 an hour.
In 1975, only one year after Congress extended the FLSA’s protections to domestic workers employed by individual households, the Department of Labor took these protections away from home care workers through an expansive reading of the “companionship” exemption. This interpretation was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007, and home care workers and their advocates have been clamoring for the rule released today ever since.
The FLSA was intended to address "starvation wages and intolerable hours." But without the wage floor set by the FLSA, this disproportionately female, immigrant and minority workforce is left just scraping by. Bringing home care workers within the FLSA’s protections will make the most immediate difference to the one-quarter of these workers paid below the federal minimum wage. But it will also have positive wage effects throughout the industry, including for those home care workers who work more than 40 hours per week and can now earn time-and-a-half pay for their overtime work.
Today the Department of Labor finally brings workplace protections for home care workers out of the Dark Ages.
I’m especially glad to have some good news to share today – the day the new wage gap and poverty numbers are released -- because the news is otherwise bleak. Last year, a woman working full-time year round was typically paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to her male counterpart. That 77-cent figure hasn’t budged in the last decade. And poverty rates for women continue to be substantially higher than for men.
Women’s segregation into low-paying jobs that are devalued precisely because they are done by women – jobs like child care worker, nail and beauty salon worker, and home care worker – is a major barrier to closing the wage gap.
“Women’s work” should not be synonymous with poverty wages, but it often is. Two-thirds of workers paid the federal minimum wage are women.
So what’s up next on the fair pay agenda? We need to raise the minimum wage and the tipped minimum wage to lift up the wages of women in the lowest-paying jobs; create pathways to higher-skilled, higher-paying jobs for women; end the workplace policies and practices that disadvantage women with caregiving responsibilities; make high-quality, affordable child care readily available; and put in place laws and policies to help stamp out pay discrimination.
Today’s good news gives us hope and renews our strength to keep up the fight.