Home care workers declare victory on minimum-wage fight

Claudine Zap
Claudine Zap
Yahoo News
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Thomas E. Perez, President Barack Obama's nominee for Labor Secretary, speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday March 18, 2013, where the president made the announcment. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Home care workers scored a victory on Tuesday after the Department of Labor announced that they will qualify for minimum wage and overtime.

The change, which could impact as many as 2 million workers, goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2015.

The workers, who care for the infirm or disabled at home, had not always made minimum wage or overtime pay because of a loophole in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

“It’s a happy moment,” Deane Beebe, spokesperson for the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, an advocacy group for home care workers, told Yahoo News. “It means home care workers will now be treated like most workers in the nation. This is a step toward the recognition and respect they deserve -- to make sure they are protected under federal wage laws.”

The “companionship exemption,” which had been in place since 1974, put home care aides in the same category as casual baby sitters. It was a rule that President Barack Obama promised to change.

On Dec. 15, 2011, Obama said, “We are going to make sure that over a million men and women in one of the fastest-growing professions in the country don’t slip through the cracks.

“We’re going to do what’s fair, and we’re going to do what’s right,” he added.

Home care workers often work long hours and overnight, enabling the chronically ill or disabled to receive skilled care while still living at home. Paying at-home workers minimum wage and overtime is estimated to modestly increase their earnings by about $166 per employee per year, according to the Labor Department.

“Home care workers are no longer treated like teenage baby sitters under this final rule,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said in a conference call on Tuesday to announce the rule change. “These workers are skilled, capable, and it’s time we started paying them like this.”

However, not everyone believes the rule change will have a positive effect.

“We think it will do more harm than good, rather than these workers getting overtime, there will be fewer and fewer people who will use them,” Val J. Halamandaris, president of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, which advocates for businesses that employ home health aides, told Yahoo News in May.

Minimum wage and overtime protections are already in place for these workers in 21 states.