For-profit homecare agencies are threatening our new rights to overtime pay. But we’re fighting back.
In December 2011, UDW caregivers Michelle Wise and Elva Munoz stood next to President Obama as he 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 IHSS providers, 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, advocacy groups and our union fought to change this definition and give us 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.
UDW caregivers sprang into action. The Brown proposal to cap hours was not only unfair to providers, but would have had disrupted continuity of care for tens of thousands of seniors and people with disabilities. We embarked on a six month long campaign, speaking out to the media and bringing thousands of providers to Sacramento to protest.
Ultimately we succeeded in stopping the proposal and securing hundreds of millions of dollars in the state budget to pay IHSS providers for overtime, travel time, and medical accompaniment. We 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.
“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,” said Doug Moore, UDW Executive Director, about the lawsuit.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the defendant in the case, also disagreed and has filed an appeal. There is a chance that a higher court with 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. We are not employed by agencies, but the ruling still impacts us. On January 15th, 2015, the Brown Administration announced that it would not be paying providers for overtime, wait time, and medical accompaniment until further notice.
“Physically and mentally, this ruling hurts. We aren’t at home relaxing and being companions. We work hard,” said Susana Saldana of Merced. Saldana cares for her 28 year old son who has physical and mental disabilities. “A lot of us are disappointed. I thought I could do a lot more for my son like taking him to the dentist and having his teeth cleaned.”
Despite the court ruling we are hopeful. There is nothing in the court action that prohibits the state from paying overtime and money we fought so hard for is still allocated in the budget. This is why we 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 our petition.