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The Obama administration is proposing a new rule to extend minimum wage and overtime protections to in-home care workers. These workers have not been covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act's minimum wage and overtime requirements because the idea was that they were equivalent to casual, part-time babysitters. But in fact, today, for nearly 1.8 million people, overwhelmingly women and disproportionately people of color, this is a full-time job. The result of not being able to count on minimum wage or overtime is that, according to the White House, "close to 40% rely on public benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps." Although some states have included these workers in minimum wage and overtime laws, in 5 states and the District of Columbia they are covered only by the minimum wage and in 29 states by neither.
"The care provided by in-home workers is crucial to the quality of life for many families," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "The vast majority of these workers are women, many of whom serve as the primary breadwinner for their families. This proposed regulation would ensure that their work is properly classified so they receive appropriate compensation and that employers who have been treating these workers fairly are no longer at a competitive disadvantage."

Solis's point about good employers being at a competitive disadvantage is going to show up during the 60 day public comment period before the rule can go into effect; already, the Washington Post's coverage emphasizes potential cost issues, with a representative of the California Association for Health Services at Home saying that "it needs to be carefully balanced with the unique needs of seniors and people with disabilities who need home care and keeping that type of care affordable." (Peculiarly, according to a list sent out by the White House, California is one of the 16 states in which home care workers must receive both minimum wage and overtime.) It's important for elderly and disabled people to be able to afford the care they need, of course. But saying that the only way to provide that is to make people work below minimum wage or without overtime is an unacceptable logic, one that we rightfully do not apply to nursing home staff or grocery store cashiers or any of the other kinds of workers we rely on day to day. Why should it apply to the women who go into people's homes to care for them?

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 09:05 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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