Last December President Obama announced a new rule that would guarantee home care workers the right to minimum wage and overtime pay through the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which has excluded them ever since it was passed in 1938. As the president said that day in a White House press release, "The nearly 2 million in-home workers across the country should not have to wait a moment longer for a fair wage. They work hard and play by the rules and they should see that work and responsibility rewarded."
Public opinion is in his favor. In the public comment period that followed the release of the rule, more than 26,000 comments poured into the U.S. Department of Labor. About 80 percent of them -- more than 20,000 -- were in favor of the new rule.
Some people with disabilities and their advocates have expressed concern about the overtime requirement in the rule. They say paying time and a half will cost too much, so people who currently rely on just one or two workers for 60, 70, or more hours apiece every week will have to cut back their workers' hours and hire an additional worker or two, which they may not want to do.
I have cerebral palsy and have employed home attendants for most of my life. I understand the anxiety some people feel at the thought of finding new workers. It takes time for the workers I employ to learn how I like things done, and even longer for us to establish the kind of trust that makes everything go more smoothly. But I'm convinced that granting workers FLSA's basic labor protections is best for us all in the long run. If I had to rely on just one or two workers who had to work at least 60 hours a week to get by, what would happen to me when to me if one of them got sick, or had a family emergency, or developed a back injury?
Home care workers nationwide average less than $10 an hour. More than a third cannot afford health insurance, and about half are forced to supplement their earnings with food stamps or some other form of public assistance. These conditions contribute to high turnover rates, making it difficult for many people in search of home care to find and keep the workers we need to remain in our own homes and communities, living as independently as possible. That's another reason why it's in the best interests of people like me -- not just the workers themselves -- for home care workers to be paid fairly. Those of us who rely on home attendants need to know we can count on getting consistent, high-quality support and care, and that means making this a job people can commit to for the long term without putting their own health or their family budget in jeopardy.
We're close to making real progress on this front, but we're not there yet. The rule announced by the president last December has not yet been finalized. Whatever the cause of that delay, it is playing into the hands of the for-profit national home care franchises that have been pouring their abundant resources into trying to keep the rule from being enacted.
We the people have weighed in, and we overwhelmingly support respect for home care workers. Please join us in supporting President Obama's commitment to home care workers and asking him to enact the rule soon.
Lateef McLeod is a member of Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Association.
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