Home Care Workers Deserve Protections

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By Catherine Ruckelshaus, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Catherine Ruckelshaus is legal co-director at the National Employment Law Project. She is a co-author of the report, “Fair Pay for Home Care Workers.”

(CNN) — Five years ago Monday, the Supreme Court dealt a devastating blow to a hardworking woman from Queens, New York.

Evelyn Coke, a single mother of five and immigrant from Jamaica, worked nearly every day for more than two decades in the homes of the elderly and the infirm, feeding, bathing, carrying them, administering their medications and tending to their needs.

Coke loved her work but grew unhappy that she was paid less than minimum wage and never for overtime. She often worked three consecutive 24-hour shifts, or more than 70 hours a week. After many years of quietly taking it, she stood up and brought her case to court.

Her case went all the way to the nation’s highest court. On June 11, 2007, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that Coke — and millions of home care workers like her — are not protected by federal minimum wage and overtime laws, even if they’re employed by for-profit home care agencies.

Why? Because through a legislative loophole, federal regulations exempt so-called “companions” from the basic labor protections that most everyone else takes for granted. It’s up to the Labor Department to change the rules, the court said.

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