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Supreme Court Rules Against Overtime And Minimum Wage For Home Care Workers
by SEIU (reposted)
Tuesday Jun 12th, 2007 9:29 AM
Ruling will hurt efforts to both stabilize workforce and meet increasing home care needs of seniors
WASHINGTON, DC—The United States Supreme Court disappointed caregivers and the families they assist as it decided today to permit home care agencies to continue to deny payment of the minimum wage and overtime to home care workers. The finding against Evelyn Coke in Long Island Care at Home Ltd v. Coke will likely hurt efforts to provide America’s growing senior population and people with disabilities with the quality, reliable in-home care they will need to live independently.

Seventy-three year old Evelyn Coke brought the suit against her employer, Long Island Care at Home, in 2003 after more than twenty years of work that sometimes entailed four 24-hour days a week, sleeping at a client’s home, rarely receiving time-and-a-half compensation for the overtime work hours. This case served to challenge the Department of Labor’s construction of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “companionship exemption,” which categorized home care workers as casual helpers such as babysitters, thus permitting home care agencies to deny home care workers overtime (time and a half on base pay) and minimum wage.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision is a serious blow to efforts to ensure quality home care in America and underscores how unprepared we are to care for the millions of seniors who will want to live at home instead of institutions,” said SEIU Executive Vice President Gerry Hudson. “If we are to avert a home care crisis, we must invest in living wages and health care coverage for home care workers to build a stable, professional workforce to meet the needs of our growing elderly population.”

The Court ruled 9-0 that homecare workers employed by third-party agencies fall within the Fair Labor Standards Act’s companionship exemption and are thus entitled neither to the minimum wage nor additional compensation for overtime based on a 1975 Department of Labor regulation. The decision leaves open the possibility that a new administration could amend the regulation to provide that homecare workers employed by third-party agencies do not fall within the exemption or that Congress could amend the Act to so provide.

More than one million home care workers in the United States provide help with activities of daily living such as dressing, bathing, cooking, cleaning and transferring. But while home care work is listed as the fastest growing occupation by the Dept. of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, its low wages and lack of health insurance, sick and vacation time has led to high turnover in the industry. For the millions of seniors and people with disabilities who live independently at home instead of more costly institutions, these employment conditions have made it difficult to find and keep caregivers.

Evelyn Coke was supported by the Service Employees International Union, along with other organizations submitting amicus briefs, including AARP, Older Women’s League, Alliance for Retired Americans, American Association of People with Disabilities, National Women’s Law Center, and the ACLU.
With 1.8 million members, including 550,000 long term care workers, SEIU is the fastest-growing union in North America. Focused on uniting workers in three sectors to improve their lives and the services they provide, SEIU is the largest health care union, including hospitals, nursing homes, and home care; the largest property services union, including building cleaning and security; and the second largest public employee union.
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