By Rebecca Beitsch
People working in one of the fastest growing professions in America aren’t well paid. Many of them don’t get health or retirement benefits. And federal minimum wage and overtime protections still don’t apply to them.
Despite the low wages and odd hours, 2 million Americans are home care workers, helping to dress, feed, and bathe the elderly and disabled within their homes. They are in high demand: The U.S. population is aging, and more seniors want to stay in their homes instead of moving to nursing homes.
In Washington and Oregon, unions played a role in raising wages for home care workers in those states’ Medicaid programs.
Some states are trying to improve home care workers’ wages and benefits, aiming to attract and retain more skilled and dedicated workers in a high-turnover industry.
But other states are concerned about adding costs to their Medicaid programs, and some are in court fighting a 2013 U.S. Department of Labor regulation that would apply minimum wage and overtime rules to home care workers, who have long been exempt.
In Washington and Oregon, unions played a role in raising wages for home care workers in those states’ Medicaid programs. Montana and North Dakota used federal stimulus dollars to help fund increases.
And in Maine, Democrats are pushing legislation that would raise the pay of home care workers to $15 an hour from $9 an hour, according to Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves, who is sponsoring the measure.
But Ohio has stripped home care workers of union bargaining rights, and has resisted giving them health benefits, arguing that they can get health care insurance on Affordable Care Act exchanges.
This story was updated to reflect the fact that Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland and Minnesota have signed onto the brief in favor of applying federal minimum wage and overtime rules to home care workers.
Meanwhile, the Department of Labor regulation that would extend overtime and minimum wage protections to home care workers has been tied up in court, with some states (Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico and New York) submitting briefs in favor of the rule but others (Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin) in opposition. Continue reading