June 20, 2013
June 25th marks the 75th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt signing the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The law guarantees federal minimum wage and overtime protections to most workers in the nation, but home care workers are excluded under the "companionship exemption."
Eighteen months ago, President Obama -- with home care workers, providers, consumers, and advocates by his side -- promised to revise the companionship
exemption. Yet today, home care workers are still waiting for a fair wage.
The companionship exemption was added to FLSA in 1974, when the law was expanded to cover most domestic workers, including housekeepers, full-time nannies, chauffeurs, and cleaners. However, the law made an exception for teenage babysitters and those who provide "care and fellowship" for the "elderly and
MSNBC’s Up with Steve Kornacki will air a segment about the history of the companionship exemption under FLSA on Saturday, June 22, at 8:15 a.m. EST.
Forty years later, the eldercare industry has changed dramatically, and the jobs of home care workers -- the backbone of the industry -- have changed along
with it. Today, home care is an $84 billion industry where the workers -- who now care for a frailer and more impaired client base -- earn on average $9.40 per hour. Also, without FLSA coverage, workers who travel between clients do so on their own time and with their own money because employers are not obligated to cover these travel costs.
Last January, the U.S. Department of Labor sent the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) a draft final rule to revise the companionship
exemption. Yet five months later -- well past the scheduled time for OMB to complete its review process -- the final rule has yet to published.
Home care workers and advocates continue to urge the President to make good on his promise to end the companionship exemption. Several opinion pieces calling for a fair wage for home care workers have been published within the last week:
- "Give Home Care Workers the Labor Standards Others Expect," Newsday, Jodi M. Sturgeon, PHI
- "Caregiving Should Be Middle Class Work," Huffington Post, Deborah Weinstein, Coalition on Human Needs
- "Valuing the Home Care Workforce," Huffington Post, Scott Einbinder, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, and Delia de la Vara, NCLR
Journalists from print, television, radio, and Internet outlets have also been following the story on the companionship exemption. Recent coverage includes:
- "A Deadline Missed," The New York Times's "New Old Age" blog, Jane Gross
- "Underpaid, Exploited, and Living in Our Homes," WBEZ Radio, Shannon Heffernan
- "Home Care Workers Demand Minimum Wage, Overtime Protections," The Hill, Elise Viebeck
To tell President Obama that it is time to provide basic labor protections to our nation's fastest-growing workforce -- one that is vital to the health and well-being of America's families -- sign the petition on the PHI website.
-- by Deane Beebe