Homecare workers deserve overtime pay — and so much more

In December 2011, California caregivers Michelle Wise and Elva Munoz stood next to President Obama as be announced some major news. The regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) were being amended to extend a minimum wage, overtime pay, and other wage protections to America’s homecare workers, including In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) caregivers in California, for the first time.

It’s hard to believe, but homecare workers have been denied these rights since the FLSA was passed over 75 years ago. The exclusion was rooted deeply in injustice – the law categorized homecare workers as mere “companions” who were not entitled to equal rights. But homecare work is real work, and that’s why caregivers, homecare unions, and advocacy groups fought to change this definition and give them full equality.

Fast forward to 2014. After years of discussions with homecare workers, clients, and other stakeholders, the Department of Labor was ready to implement the new rules starting on January 1, 2015. But California Governor Jerry Brown had other plans: in January 2014, he announced his intention to cap provider hours at 40 per week so that IHSS providers in California would not be able to earn overtime pay.

Members of the United Domestic Workers of America (UDW), a homecare union made up of 66,000 caregivers across California, sprang into action. The Brown proposal to cap hours was not only unfair to homecare providers, but would have disrupted continuity of care for tens of thousands of seniors and people with disabilities. UDW embarked on a six month long campaign, speaking out to the media and bringing thousands of providers to Sacramento to protest.

Ultimately California’s caregivers succeeded in stopping the proposal and securing hundreds of millions of dollars in the state budget to pay IHSS workers for overtime, travel time, and medical accompaniment. They also secured passage of SB 855, which addresses the implementation of the new rules in California.

On the national level, not everyone was pleased about the new rights for homecare workers. Specifically for-profit homecare agencies looked for a way to avoid paying their employees. In mid-2014, the Home Care Association of America and other trade groups representing homecare agencies filed a lawsuit to stop the regulations. On January 14, 2015, a federal judge sided with the employers in Home Care Association v. Weil and issued an injunction halting the new overtime pay rules from going into effect.

UDW Executive Director Doug Moore explained, 

“It is appalling that the for-profit homecare industry and its wealthy backers brought this court case to deny dignity to the workers who provide compassionate and lifesaving care to seniors and Americans with disabilities”

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the defendant in the case, also disagreed and will be filing an appeal. There is a chance that a higher court will overturn the judge’s ruling, allowing homecare workers to finally have equal rights.

“The Department believes the Final Rule’s extension of minimum wage and overtime protections to most home care workers is legally sound and is the right policy—both for those employees, whose demanding work merits these fundamental wage guarantees, and for recipients of services, who deserve a stable and professional workforce allowing them to remain in their homes and communities,” reads a statement on the DOL website.

The story doesn’t end there for IHSS providers in California. They are not employed by agencies, but the ruling still impacts them. When the court ruling came down, the Brown Administration announced that it would not be paying providers for overtime, wait time, and medical accompaniment until further notice.

Despite this, homecare workers are hopeful. There is nothing in the court action that prohibits the state from paying overtime and the money they fought so hard for is still allocated in the budget. This is why caregivers are calling on Governor Brown and the Legislature to move forward with paying IHSS providers overtime in 2015.

Providers like Elva and Michelle, who were there when President Obama made the announcement over four years ago, should not have to wait another day for equality. If you agree, take action by signing their petition.

Visit United Domestic Workers of America for more information. You can also follow them on Twitter @UDWA for up to the minute details.