Be good if we could speed this up a little


The United States Supreme Court ruled yesterday against a home care aide from Queens and upheld federal regulations that exempt most home care workers from minimum-wage and overtime protections.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he would seek to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to ensure that home aides were protected. He said the court decision highlighted “a significant gap in the protections of our laws,” and added that he would work with his colleagues “on a fair solution that treats these hardworking caregivers with the dignity and respect they deserve”.

The home care aide’s name was Evelyn Coke, and she died in 2009:

Year in and year out, Evelyn Coke left her Queens house early to go to the homes of elderly, sick, often dying people. She bathed them, cooked for them, helped them dress and monitored their medications. She sometimes worked three consecutive 24-hour shifts. She loved the work, but she earned only around $7 an hour and got no overtime pay. For years Ms. Coke, a single mother of five, quietly grumbled, and then, quite uncharacteristically, rebelled. In a case that reached the Supreme Court in 2007, Ms. Coke sued to reverse federal labor regulations that exempt home care agencies from having to pay overtime.


The Obama administration proposed regulations on Thursday to give the nation’s nearly two million home care workers minimum wage and overtime protections. Those workers have long been exempted from coverage. Labor unions and advocates for low-wage workers have pushed for the changes, contending that the 37-year-old exemption improperly swept these workers, who care for many elderly and disabled Americans, into the same “companion” category as baby sitters. The administration’s move calls for home care aides to be protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the nation’s main wage and hour law.
The White House said 92 percent of these workers were women, nearly 30 percent were African-American and 12 percent Hispanic. Nearly 40 percent rely on public benefits like Medicaid and food stamps. While industry experts say an overwhelming majority are paid at least the minimum wage, many do not receive a time-and-a-half premium when they work more than 40 hours a week. Twenty-two states do not include home health care workers under their wage and hour laws.
Noting that nearly 90 percent of the nation’s home care aides work for agencies, Labor Department officials said such aides would receive the new wage and hour protections. The department said some companions employed by individuals for activities like helping them take walks or engage in hobbies would still be exempt from minimum wage and overtime coverage.

Medicare and Medicaid cover 75% of the cost of home care aides, but nursing homes, the alternative to home care, are ruinously expensive for state and federal governments. Home care aides are a good deal all around, so we should pay them, don’t you think? We’ll hear the usual screeching from conservative politicians and lobbyists but if this bloviating, useless gas bag can make $1.6 million for lobbying members of Congress we can certainly afford time and a half for the women who care for the people who can’t work anymore. If we can’t, if we can’t pay these workers properly, when 40% of them are eligible for food stamps, then all that bullshit we’re always spouting about the inherent dignity of honest labor is about as meaningful as any of the 676 GOP debates on cable television.

Evelyn Coke lost her court case, and Kennedy didn’t get it done in the time he had, but I’m sure both Kennedy and Ms. Coke would be pleased to know advocates kept pushing until they won.

36 replies
  1. 1
    Calouste says:

    Left pocket, right pocket, isn’t it? You can either pay these people the minimum wage out of the Medicare/Medicaid pot, or you can give them foodstamps out of a different bucket. Of course people, specially minority women, earning a living wage and being independent makes quite a few people queezy in the USofA.

  2. 2
    different-church-lady says:

    Obama’s only doing this to protect the 1%.

  3. 3
    Bnad says:

    My cousin got rich starting & running a home health care business and is already a wingnut. This is going to drive her insane.

  4. 4
    kay says:


    It’s also just stupid. People want to stay in their homes. Nursing homes are crazy-expensive for Medicaid. So we’re going to nickel and dime home care workers, and not pay them overtime?

    That makes sense.

  5. 5
    Palli says:

    Oh boy! Many ‘corporate people” are going to have to become even more inventive about bookkeeping to keep the outlandishly high profits coming if they have to pay labor at least minimum wage!

    Hey, got another thought. How about saying private insurance should be billed before medicare-instead of the other way around?

  6. 6
    Schlemizel says:

    “the inherent dignity of honest labor”

    Where the hell have you been living the last 30 years?

  7. 7
    kay says:


    This is going to drive her insane.

    Tell her you believe in market forces. If she can’t pay her workers properly, she isn’t succeeding at that business, and she needs to go out of business. Paying people for the hours that they work is not optional. It’s not an “extra”.

  8. 8
    Liz says:

    Staying at home when you’re elderly and/or sick is a godsend. And there’s going to be a shitload more old people pretty soon, so this makes good sense.

  9. 9
    r€nato says:

    bah! humbug! What has Obush done for us, anyway?

  10. 10
    Snowball says:


    It’s also just stupid. People want to stay in their homes. Nursing homes are crazy-expensive for Medicaid. So we’re going to nickel and dime home care workers, and not pay them overtime? That makes sense.

    Well, this is apparently what the voters wanted. This is why they voted in as many Republicans as they did to Congress. Elections have consequences.

    Apparently it is more important that some gay couple (that they have never met) can’t marry than reasonable OT laws.

  11. 11
    g says:

    Maybe Gingrich can fire home health care workers and hire poor children to do the work instead.

  12. 12
    kay says:


    Maybe Gingrich can fire home health care workers and hire poor children to do the work instead.

    Right. He would. Except the children of these women in certain neighborhoods don’t know how to work because they’ve never seen anyone work. Or so the bullshitting gasbag says. It’s statements like those that make him the favorite intellectual of cable tv personalities.

  13. 13
    Mnemosyne says:

    I have always been of the opinion that no employer should be allowed to pay his/her employees below minimum wage. Independent contractors are supposed to actually be independent, i.e. people who set their own hours and bill their client accordingly. It’s one thing if you’re a home care worker who is paid directly by the patient. It’s another thing entirely if you’re sent there by an agency because the agency is your employer, not the patient.

  14. 14
    ET says:

    Wonder if many of the “twenty-two states do not include home health care workers under their wage and hour laws” are predominantly red state.

    Seriously $7 for helping people with what could be live/death health care? WTF?

  15. 15
    Soonergrunt says:


    we can certainly afford time and a half for the women

    I can almost guarantee you that if this men were the primary members of this occupation that we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

  16. 16
    Ken says:

    but if this bloviating, useless gas bag can make $1.6 million for lobbying members of Congress

    Objection! His position is that he was not lobbying. He was taking the money and doing absolutely nothing.

  17. 17
    cintibud says:

    Medicare and Medicaid cover 75% of the cost of home care aides

    It that correct? Medicare that is – I take care of my Mother’s bills and paying her home health care entirely out of (her) pocket. She has the money to pay now, but after some time she will run out of money and will have to go on Medicaid.

    I’ll be looking into this more on my own, but wanted to get some initial reaction from the knowledgeable folks here.

    Oh – should add that the folks that care for her are fantastic!

  18. 18
    Epicurus says:

    @Ken: I hope you will still agree with us that he IS a “bloviating, useless gasbag.”

  19. 19
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Ken: No, he was giving them historical ideas and perspective on housing issues. (Although in point of fact, it probably was rubbish and therefore could count as nothing of value.)

  20. 20
    PurpleGirl says:

    @cintibud: Yes, Medicare and Medicaid pay most of the bill for home care and nursing home care. You are paying right now because you/your mother have assets. The assets must be spent down to almost nothing before Medicaid will begin paying for the nursing home or at-home care. I know people who have had to do this.

    ETA: I’m not sure of the exact level of assets you can keep, but my 403B still had a few thousand in it (like $3600) and that was too much for me to get Medicaid, even though I’m unemployed for 3 years.

  21. 21
    cintibud says:

    Thanks PurpleGirl. I am aware of the Medicaid rules, I was wondering about Medicare though, since that (usually) is not asset based.

  22. 22
    PurpleGirl says:

    @cintibud: Medicare pays the medical bills but not for home care. It will cover some nursing home care if it is related to a medical issue; a friend had a triple by-pass last week and Medicare will pay for her time in a nursing home for a period of convalescence.

  23. 23
    cintibud says:

    Thanks, that’s what I thought. I was confused by Kay’s wording.

  24. 24
    Ken says:

    @Epicurus: I would say it goes without saying, but it should be said as often as possible.

    @PurpleGirl: Really it’s like those little puzzles the legal profession delights in. Person A purchases what he thinks is cocaine from Person B, but it is actually powdered sugar. Is Person A guilty of drug trafficking? Is Person B guilty of fraud?

  25. 25
    ornery says:

    Great post, Kay … thanks for the information. Some good news!

  26. 26
    cckids says:


    Seriously $7 for helping people with what could be live/death health care? WTF?

    Not only that, but it is hard, backbreaking, frequently unpleasant work. Lifting adults, dealing with diapers, catheters, colostomies, bed baths, draining wounds, etc. And many of the people they are helping (or the families) treat them like dirt, or get angry at them for not doing things they are not allowed to do by law (set up oxygen, tube feedings, dressing changes, etc.) I have dealt with home health care aides for years, until NV cut funding for it, and most of them are incredible people. I like to think we were some of the “good” ones they had to deal with–we didn’t ask for miracles, gave them help with any lifting, and treated them with respect. From the stories they told, tho, we were an exception. And their employers were worst of all.

  27. 27
    cckids says:

    @Soonergrunt: You are right, and, given the heavy-lifting aspect of the job, (plus that half or so of the patients are men), male aides would make more sense.

  28. 28
    PurpleGirl says:

    @cckids: When my father was released from the hospital after the hernia operation, my mother was able to get home care for him for a few hours a day. She complained to me — a LOT — that the aide(s) weren’t helping her with house cleaning!. I told her that was not their job; their job was to help Daddy shave, have a bath, wash his hair, stuff like that. The RN was there to do medical things, like wound care. But neither of the men was a house cleaner. She kept insisting that they were. It was a PITA argument.

  29. 29
    gaz says:

    Another issue here – is basically – you often get what you pay for.

    I can’t tell you how many meth-addled freaks that I’ve run into that have positions as “care-givers”. I lost count of how many times I’ve encountered these people. (I lived on broadway in seattle through some it’s bad years – heh)

    At $7 an hour, who the hell else would want the job? Of course you’ll get addicts and assholes that take it. I mean, the really disabled folks can’t complain can they? Leads to theft, abuse, etc…

    Pay them what they are worth, and demand that they are qualified.

    Fuckin hell.

    I don’t want addicts “taking care” of paraplegics…

    Not saying that all care-givers are that way, or even the majority – I applaud the people that actually perform this thankless job with compassion and competence.

    Pay them what they are worth. Insist on credentials. And in any other way possible, get the “losers” out of the profession.

  30. 30
    gaz says:

    Also, too: Thank you so much Obama & Administration, for taking this on.

    Definitely will be etched in my Obama Win column.
    And yeah – I’m keeping score.
    And yeah – I have a FAIL column for him too.

  31. 31
    Mnemosyne says:


    My aunts went through a couple of home care aides for my grandmother before they found Odette, who was absolutely wonderful with her. I half-suspect that my aunts raised the salary after the second aide didn’t work out and that’s why they were able to hire her.

    That was more of a companion/aide type of situation, though, where she actually lived in the condo with my grandmother (who by that point was mostly blind and deaf) and was also responsible for meals, light housekeeping, etc., but my aunts made that part of the job description. She was studying to be an LPN, so they may also have helped her out with that (my family’s always been huge on education — we have two PhD’s in the family).

  32. 32
    Lizzy L says:

    According to Think Progress, two prominent Republicans have already come out against this change.

    No, not surprised.

  33. 33
    clayton says:

    That some skanky posts by the local PUMA and the idiot who posts as SP&T stomped this post is all you need to know about this place.

  34. 34
    Ian says:


  35. 35

    Home care workers should earn a living wage for the same reason teachers should be justly compensated. They take care of the people who are the most vulnerable and we care about the most.

  36. 36

    Great post — thanks!

    This has been a signature issue for years for the Direct Care Alliance, which is the national advocacy group for direct care workers (that means everyone who does the hands-on care in long-term care, so it includes home care workers). It is big news for our members, who often feel that their work is invisible or looked down on, to finally be on the verge of winning the basic labor protections that apply to almost all other full-time American workers.

    But that will only happen if the Department of Labor, which wants to enact the rule, gets enough support in the form of public comments to justify doing so. If you care about this issue, please mark your calendar and go to our campaign page at right after the new year. As soon as the rule has been published in the Federal Register and the comment period is open, we’ll be providing a link to the page where you leave comments and some resources, including a template letter you can amend to make submission easy.

    Please take a couple minutes when you can to register your support. Home care workers need your help!

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