"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Supreme Court Denies Rights for Home-Care Workers

Not only is this a HUGE feminist issue, but a recent Supreme Court ruling has hit me pretty close to home:

Justices say home healthcare aides not entitled to minimum wage, overtime

If I may share a little about myself, I currently work a full-time evening job and go to school part-time in the mornings and afternoons, taking classes in preparation for graduate study. I also squeeze in two five-hour shifts a week for my part-time job, which is in home health care.

I have worked as a home health aide for nearly five years. I should mention that in that time, I have only worked part-time and only with one client, but there are hundreds of thousands of people who do this work to earn their living in the U.S. 90% of them are women; half of them are minorities.

We do not work independently, but as employees of companies to assist disabled and elderly women and men in their own homes with mobility, personal care, household care, special diets, physical therapy regimens, and more. We monitor our clients for health issues and symptoms and report them to their nurses and doctors. Sometimes we are helping folks transition from hospital stays to regaining their independence, and sometimes we know their need for care will continue indefinitely. The demands vary, and the possibilities of what we might encounter or be expected to do are endless. We work closely with clients' family members to make sure health and rehabilitation goals are being met. We undergo drug tests and health screenings to make sure we are fit to work with patients. We are required to maintain advanced CPR and other training credentials, pass regular compliance tests, and submit detailed paperwork about our activities. At my company, we drive to, from, and between our assigned clients' homes (which can be many miles apart) and drive from all over to the central office once a week to turn in our time-sheets and paperwork, all with no reimbursement for mileage or gas. We wear scrubs we purchase ourselves, and we must only work the number of hours the clients are permitted to receive from their health care providers (always a lower number than what they seem to really need).

I have nothing but respect for those who do this work full-time and with many clients. It's a demanding, draining, complicated, and sometimes heartwrenching job, and the care they provide is indispensible.

And the Supreme Court has just upheld a federal labor law that keeps the status of these workers so low that they have no more rights than part-time babysitters. Their decision confirms that home care workers (or "personal attendants," as they call them) have no right to minimum wage or to overtime pay, claiming that paying higher wages and overtime for what they call "companionship services" will put too much of a burden on employers. According to the article, a handful of states have their own laws to protect home care workers, but under federal law, there is no requirement that they do so.

I understand that health care at all levels is expensive, and I get that many companies struggle to provide care under the restraints of for-profit insurance companies. The whole system is so flawed and desperately needs to undergo a complete change. But in the meantime, how can the court justify a decision that perpetuates the suffering of over a million low-wage workers?


Anonymous said...

Wow. That sucks.

I worked in home care for nearly 10 years and had to deal with a lot of business-level re-orgs in attempt to lower the cost of our services. But we were non-profit and unionized - and the people who needed help often received targeted subsidies), so we at least were paid regularly and reasonably well (we were paid $16.00/hr in the 90's - but $32.00/hr is what the agency charged). I'm in Canada too, which may also make a difference.

Not to say it was all a picnic, but home care attendants in the US may want to think seriously about unionizing too.

Anonymous said...

The extent to which our Supreme Court is currently fucked up, and most likely will remain fucked up for a long, long time just makes me want to cry.

Tracey said...

deanna: That's interesting. Sounds like high pay, too. After a few raises, I make about $8.65 an hour, and I felt muuch better about it after I realized that the job doesn't require minimum wage, which is still only $5.15 nationally, unless the state has its own minimum wage.

Unionizing could be really great. It's so hard, though, since we all work independently of each other. I don't even know a single other aide at my company. Anything's possible, though.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Cara: Oh, I know! It's so depressing. Even if (I mean WHEN) we get a liberal president, we still have this court to worry about.

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