One year ago, President Obama announced new regulations proposed by the Department of Labor (DOL) that would grant minimum wage and overtime pay to home care workers, a workforce that has been unfairly denied these basic protections for decades. In his remarks last December, he described a day he spent with Pauline Beck, a home care worker from Oakland, California:
“When we met, she was getting up every day at 5:00 a.m. to go to work taking care of an 86-year-old amputee named ‘Mr. John.’ And each day, she’d dress Mr. John and help him into his wheelchair. She’d make him breakfast. She’d scrub his floors. She’d clean his bathroom. She was his connection to the outside world. And when the workday was done, she would go home to take care of a grandnephew and two foster children who didn’t have families of their own. Heroic work, and hard work. That’s what Pauline was all about.”
Pauline’s story is illustrative. Like Pauline, most home care workers are women. They take on the vitally important work of caring for our neighbors and family members who need help to stay in their homes – and like Pauline, many home care workers also have their own families to support. But for decades, their difficult and demanding jobs have come without the basic protections of the federal minimum wage and overtime laws. While the home care industry has grown tremendously in recent years, workers’ wages have not: median wages are below $10/hour, and about one in four home care workers is paid less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour.
By ensuring that home care workers receive minimum wage and overtime premium pay, the DOL regulations proposed last December would end a longstanding injustice and help many hardworking women lift their families out of poverty. Today, however, Pauline Beck and millions like her are still waiting for the basic labor protections they have been promised because the proposed regulations have not yet been finalized.
Final regulations may not be too far off; according to a spokesman for DOL, the agency has already signed off on the new rules. But the White House’s Office of Management and Budget must approve the regulations before they can go into effect. With all of the unresolved questions involved in the ongoing negotiations over the so-called “fiscal cliff,” it would be nice to see the Administration provide certainty where it can and finalize the DOL regulations right away. Home care workers shouldn’t have to wait until 2013 to know that they will finally receive the wage and hour protections they deserve.