By Kenneth Quinnell, AFL-CIO
In a unanimous decision, a federal appeals court reversed a district court and ruled that the U.S. Department of Labor was within its authority to issue a rule change meant to provide home care workers with a minimum wage and overtime protections. The case is now remanded to the district court.
In 2013, the Labor Department announced rule changes under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that would guarantee that workers who care for the elderly and people with disabilities in their homes would have the same labor protections as other workers. But U.S. District Judge Richard Leon halted the change saying that Labor didn’t have the authority to make the rule change. On appeal, the higher court disagreed. U.S. Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan wrote for the court: “The Department’s decision to extend the FLSA’s protections to those employees is grounded in a reasonable interpretation of the statute and is neither arbitrary nor capricious.”
Christine L. Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said she assumes that Labor now has the authority to implement the changes: “States would be well advised, and employers would be well advised, to take this decision as final and begin acting.”
This workforce, which is 90 percent female and half people of color, hasn’t been eligible for minimum wage or overtime pay since 1974, when they fell under the companionship exemption given the idea that they merely provided company to their clients. So while their average wages come to $9.61 an hour, nearly a third of those surveyed in New York City made less than $15,000 a year and nearly 40 percent of the entire workforce has to rely on public benefits to get by….
Home care workers are in a huge and rapidly expanding industry. Nearly 2.5 million people are employed in this line of work, making it one of the largest occupations, and the number of jobs is expected to grow 70 percent by 2020. Even so, demand is expected to outpace supply over the next decade as the country ages, something that could be eased with higher pay and benefits.