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Congressional Republicans Fight Minimum Wage Protections For Exploited Health Care Workers

By Marie Diamond on December 16, 2011 at 5:35 pm

"Congressional Republicans Fight Minimum Wage Protections For Exploited Health Care Workers"

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Yesterday President Obama introduced a rule that would finally extend federal minimum wage and overtime protections to two million workers who provide home-based care to the elderly and people with disabilities. For 37 years a loophole that puts home health care workers in the same “companion” category as babysitters has prevented those workers from receiving these key labor rights.

The administration’s action rectifies a longstanding injustice by simply ensuring home care workers are covered by the same protections other workers get under the Fair Labor Standards Act. But Congressional Republicans and their corporate allies are speaking out against the move:

Republican lawmakers and business groups criticized the proposed rules, which might be modified after a 60-day public comment period. Industry officials said the proposals would push up costs and might cause home care agencies to reduce the hours of aides who work more than 40 hours a week and instead hire more aides.

“The president’s goal is commendable, but the likely result of this new rule is reduced hours for home care workers and higher costs for taxpayers,” said John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who is chairman of the House Education and the Work Force Committee, and Tim Walberg, a Minnesota Republican who heads the panel’s subcommittee on work force protections

Predictably, Republicans and businesses that are reluctant to part with their profits have resorted to fearmongering, claiming that adequately compensating home care workers will increase costs for taxpayers and the elderly. But Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said any increased costs would be modest.

More importantly, these workers provide an indispensable service for a growing number of Americans and deserve fair pay. Six million Americans over 65 years old need some form of daily assistance to live outside a nursing home, and that number is expected to double by 2030 as Baby Boomers age.

According to the White House, 92 percent of home health care workers are women, nearly 30 percent are African-American and 12 percent are Hispanic. Nearly 40 percent rely on public benefits like Medicaid and food stamps. The new rules will be a big help for workers and their families who are struggling to get by.

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