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The NYT Gets One Right: Home Workers Should Get Minimum Wage and OT

Here’s something we don’t see every day: A NYT op-ed that Via Meadia can support — at least to some degree. In a Times piece, Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein argue that health care aides should be covered by the same labor laws — including the right to overtime — as other workers:

The title may have changed, but the work has remained the same: a combination of basic bodily care and housekeeping. That care workers substituted for the unpaid labor of wives and mothers further confused their status. So did the home location. As one 64-year-old worker told Congress in 2007, “I would get time and a half pay for my overtime hours for performing the same tasks for Mrs. G. if she were in a nursing home facility. But because my work helps her to stay in her home, I am deprived of overtime pay.”

The “elder companion exemption” has allowed staffing agencies to avoid paying overtime. It treated women who labored to support their families as if they were teenagers picking up some spending money. Conveniently, this exemption came just as home care became a growth industry, aided by changes to Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs. Beginning with the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, these programs funneled more public money to for-profit firms, generating a vast home health industry — with a tenfold increase in for-profit agencies during the first half of the 1980s alone. By the 1990s, home care was the fourth largest occupation.

This argument is basically correct. Overall, at VM we think that labor law in the US needs a substantial overhaul to promote rather than to penalize self employment and small business growth. And the minimum wage law is one of the policies that needs a second look, as in some economically depressed areas a national uniform minimum wage does more harm than good. But home care is a job, and increasingly it is run as an industry. Large employers working in this field should pay the federal minimum wage to their employees. And overtime for workers on an hourly wage is also reasonable and fair.

There is a stronger case for maintaining the exemption for individuals and very small companies; some of these arrangements are pretty informal and there is no need why granny should go through a lot of paperwork when making an arrangement with a couple who live across the street that works for both parties. But it’s clear that most of the activity taking place in this field has nothing to do with the traditional person-to-person home aide market.

Not everything in America needs to be formalized, and sauce for the goose isn’t always the right choice for the gander, but when large corporations deploy a large number of employees across the United States, those employees should not be made second class citizens. Equal treatment under the law: that’s what the colonists were fighting for in 1776, and we should be applying it now.

There should, however, still be a granny clause.

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  • C. Philips

    Minimum wage laws cut off the bottom rungs of the employment ladder. Fine for do-gooders who didn’t have to start at the bottom, but very bad for the poor who have the hardest time finding jobs. They should be abolished everywhere.

  • John Burke

    Whoa, Professor. Do you really want to drive the cost of healthcare, specifically Medicare and Medicaid through the roof? What has happened here is that government programs began to pay for at-home elder care mainly to try to avoid the far-higher costs of nursing home care; private providers not surprisingly moved to facilitate this type od care for a price; these companies have earned profits, which offends liberal sensibilities and offers an opportunity for propaganda about exploited workers; so the usual suspects pounce.

    Nearly all such home care — which requires no special medical or nursing training — is done by immigrant women, heavily Hispanic or Filipina, who otherwise would or could do what? Clean houses or babysit, that’s what, in which case, laws or not, they would in most areas of the country earn lower hourly wages without Social Security or unemployment comp.

    What’s more, the whole idea of elder care rests on the assumption that it is not an eight-hour-day, 40-hours-a-week job. A person may need help a few hours a day with shopping, laundry and cleaning. Another may need 12- or 24-hour care. The latter category is the fastest growing precisely because it is STILL far cheaper than nursing homes for people who do not require constant access to medical attention but do need constant care (including many in a hospice situation). Medicaid and other insurers will gladly pay this bill. Do you honestly believe that a care receiver should either have an aide getting paid overtime with tax monet after eight hours and through weekends or have a parade of different aides trooping in and out all day and all week?

    The current system works well. The typical unskilled home care worker is very pleased to have a stable job
    with a good income and a lot less work than the realistic alternatives (there is a great deal of watching TV, chatting on the phone, and playing cards with the patient; it is hardly all washing and ironing.

    As usual, the Times wants ti screw the pooch. Don’t help them.

  • Tom Gates

    These wage laws are the first rung to unionization of these groups. They are a major target for the SEIU. This is why the NYT so supports. Check out their union power in CA, big surprise. Read Tom Sowell’s view on these laws and how they have devasted job entry and mobility for the young as well as minorities.

  • DirtyJobsGuy

    This is part of an ongoing campaign by SEIU to force unionization. Here in CT, Gov Malloy signed an illegal executive order to allow this. The workers would pay dues to a union that cannot negotiate with each individual employer (disabled or elderly person who gets money from the state to hire an aide). Just another SEIU scam.

    See how easy it is to be duped with false pleas to kindness. No wonder it is hard to limit government.

  • Philip Bennett

    I am writing this as a homecare worker of 36 years, not for any homecare agency.
    The Federal Department of Labor (DOL) is proposing changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)to Domestic Service which, if put into effect, may seriously reduce the take-home pay of countless numbers of homecare workers such as I and make the lives of the people with disabilities we assist less manageable.
    The changes would require the payment of minimum wage to homecare workers and mandate that homecare workers must receive time and a half pay for every hour over 40 hours per week of work done. Medicaid would bear most of the burden.
    This sounds like it would be a major victory for me and my fellow homecare workers, right? But there’s one big problem: where is the money to pay for this? If the law says we can’t work without minimum wage or time and a half pay but the money’s not there, then we won’t be allowed to work those hours!
    That means, instead of increasing our take-home pay, the proposal will slash all hours beyond 40 per week of our pay. For me, that’s 416 hours and $4,742.40 per year I will lose.
    My fellow workers who currently put in 84 hours per week will suffer a 44 hour loss — over half their pay!
    Healthcare insurance will also be harder to qualify for since it’s based on the number of hours worked.
    As a result, many workers will be forced to seek out second or third or forth jobs to make up the loss.
    And, for the people we assist, their lives will be harder. They will either endure a reduction in homecare hours or will have to seek more workers. That means more poorly paid people in their homes with even less incentive to do a good job. Many people with disabilities have a hard enough time right now managing their assistants. The added strain will cause many to just give up and move into nursing homes.
    Who benefits from this proposal? Certainly the nursing home industry. Also the homecare unions which will receive more dues-paying members even as all the members’ average standard-of-living declines. Even the most poorly-paid worker in a closed shop is required to turn over at least $25.10 per month in union dues. That’s a windfall for union coffers even as the average standard of living of the workers plummets.
    What can we do? We can demand that, before this proposal is put into effect, funding for it be allocated and in place to begin payment immediately. Finding this money won’t be easy. The federal government is 15 trillion dollars in debt (that’s $15,000,000,000,000: a lot of zeros!) The states and municipalities aren’t doing much better. But, until we are shown the money, this proposal is nothing but a shell game which promises a reward but leaves us worse off than before.

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