On Tuesday last week, the Obama administration announced that direct care workers throughout the United States would finally receive the same protections as workers in almost every other field—protections like minimum wage and overtime payment.
Until now, workers who provide home assistance to elderly people and people with disabilities were excluded—along with a few other groups, like farmworkers—from full protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The change will affect nearly 2 million workers (90 percent of whom are female and 50 percent of whom are minorities) throughout the United States. It’s an industry that has been growing rapidly for years, due in part to an aging population with an increasing demand for home assistance.
To top it off, yesterday California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights into law, the culmination of a seven-year campaign to grant domestic workers overtime pay. The bill’s advocates kept at it for years, despite getting smacked with a veto as recently as last year. Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, responded on Twitter:
Cannot stop crying tears of joy & pride. After 7 years of hard work & two vetoes, finally a victory for domestic workers in CA #AB241
— Ai-jen Poo (@aijenpoo) September 26, 2013
According to the Alliance, the mostly female domestic worker industry is rife with labor violations and various kinds of abuse. Workers are often isolated, working in private residences where they are vulnerable to forced overtime, physical abuse, occupational injury, wage theft, and more. Moreover, the Alliance reported earlier this year that 25 percent of California’s domestic workers are paid below the state minimum wage. Fifty-eight percent of them spend more than half of their income on rent, and many are immigrants with little or no social safety net.
California assemblyman and author of the bill Tom Ammiano said in a statement, “We’ve pushed this bill for a few years and it’s time they get the overtime pay they work hard for … California can now resume its place as a leader in worker rights.”
California is just the third state to pass such a bill (on the heels of Hawaii this summer, and New York in 2010), though similar campaigns are underway in Illinois, Massachusetts, and other states.
The new federal protections for home care workers will kick in in January of 2015.