In-home care workers deserve overtime - Women's Foundation California

Surina Khan, San Francisco Chronicle, March 2, 2015—It’s no secret that women face a persistent lag in pay behind their male counterparts and experience higher rates of poverty than men. From additional family responsibilities to workplace discrimination, there are many obstacles facing women struggling to attain economic equality and stability. For the overwhelmingly female workforce of caregivers for the elderly and people with disabilities, there is an extra hurdle: they don’t earn overtime pay because their work is excluded from the basic protections of federal labor law.

Governor Jerry Brown heard firsthand how this exclusion hurts California women and families when he spent a day with Guillermina Mazariego, who works around the clock caring for her son, Marvin. At 18 years old, Marvin functions at a 1st or 2nd grade level due to autism. Though she never “clocks out” because Marvin needs 24 hour attention to stay out of harm’s way, Guillermina is paid 258 hours a month to care for Marvin through the state’s In-Home Supportive Services program. At a rate of $11.50 an hour, she hardly earns enough to cover the basics in Alameda County as a single mother and sole income-earner for Marvin. Earning overtime pay would help Guillermina pay for the private transportation Marvin needs since Alameda County eliminated specialized transportation for people with disabilities.

Guillermina hoped that seeing firsthand the hard work and emotion that go into caring for someone with Marvin’s needs would move Governor Brown to recognize home care work as equal under the law, and her hopes were realized. Governor Brown signed legislation in last year’s state budget that would align California with President Obama’s decision to bring caregivers under the same federal labor protections that all other workers enjoy.

Governor Brown’s action was welcome news to the 400,000 California in-home caregivers like Guillermina whose work had long been treated as second-class workers under the 80-year old Federal Labor Standards Act that excludes domestic workers from earning overtime and other basic labor laws. Women are bearing the brunt of this law that should have been overturned long ago. To the detriment of women caregivers who are also often primary income-earners for their families, the sad fact is that this legal discrimination persists today, despite attempts by President Obama to give caregiving the equal recognition and respect that it deserves. Last June three home-care industry groups sued the federal government over the rule, temporarily halting these overtime protections in federal court.

But that doesn’t mean that California has to follow suit. Nothing in the federal challenge prevents California from moving forward to include In-Home Supportive Services caregivers in the same labor protections all other California workers enjoy. After all, funding for overtime pay is already accounted for in the Governor’s 2015-2016 budget.

By following through on his promise to provide overtime pay to California’s home care workers, the Governor and California can continue to be a national leader. We can strengthen the caregiving profession, and boost women out of poverty by enabling those who work more than 40 hours per week to earn overtime pay. And in doing so, California and the Governor will follow- through on our commitment to support home care workers and the families who rely on them.

With one million new caregivers needed to care for our aging population by 2022, we can take a compassionate approach that upholds both the dignity of our aging population and the economic advancement of women.

Surina Khan is the CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California.

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