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« on: June 12, 2007, 12:18:53 PM »

Court rules against home care workers

Home care workers are not entitled to overtime pay under federal law, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, a setback for a growing labor force of more than 1 million people.

The unanimous decision came in the case of Evelyn Coke, a 73-year-old retiree who spent more than two decades helping the ill and the elderly and is now in failing health herself.

The Labor Department did not exceed its authority when it excluded home care workers from overtime protection and "courts should defer to the department's rule," Justice
Stephen Breyer wrote, relieving employers and angering workers' rights groups.

The Bush administration opposed Coke's challenge to the Labor Department's 1975 regulation. A new administration should rewrite it to give workers the protection they deserve, said the Service Employees International Union, which represents hundreds of thousands of workers in that industry.

The Clinton administration had drafted a regulation to cover the workers, but the rule was shelved after
President Bush took office in 2001.

Home care aides are the key to the independent life senior citizens want, but lack of adequate pay is fueling turnover rates of 40 to 60 percent annually, the employees' union says.

Government lawyers told the Supreme Court in April that the goal is ensuring that the elderly who most need home care service receive it "at a reasonable cost."

Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, called the decision "another blow to struggling, low-wage women."

Two weeks ago, the court limited workers' ability to sue for pay discrimination, ruling against a Goodyear employee who earned thousands of dollars less than her male counterparts but waited too long to complain.

Half of home care workers are minorities, and 90 percent are women, according to 2000 census data. Their wages remain among the lowest in the service industry, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"I would say, 'If you feel it's an easy job, step into my shoes," said home care worker Lori Reynolds in New York City, who said she is "truly disappointed" by the court's ruling.

In Coke's case, the Supreme Court was "wrong about what Congress intended," said Harold Craig Becker, Coke's lead attorney.

The Labor Department wrote the restrictive regulation after Congress expanded the law's protections.

Paying time and a half for hours in excess of 40 a week would cost billions, the home care industry says.

"When you try to apply traditional labor law to this home-care scenario it's really pretty impractical," said Paul R. Hogan, founder of an Omaha, Neb.-based firm providing home health care services. The firm, Home Instead Senior Care, has 540 franchises in the United States with 41,000 full- and part-time caregivers.

"Many seniors need long hours of companionship, even overnights," said Hogan. "If the exemption is eliminated the cost of service would go so high it would drive many seniors into the gray market where they would be hiring home care workers directly. There would be no screening, no training, no supervision and no backup."

In New York City, the annual cost of the Medicaid-funded Personal Care Services Program would rise by at least a quarter of a billion dollars if the appeals court decision is allowed to stand, the city says.

Coke's former employer, Long Island Care at Home Ltd., says it would experience "tremendous and unsustainable losses" if it had to comply with federal overtime requirements.

Many home care workers were brought under the law's protection starting with Democratic administrations in the 1960s.

In 1974, Congress broadened the law to cover workers in a variety of fields. The subsequent Labor Department rule reversed Fair Labor Standards Act coverage for home care workers who previously had the protection.

"Isn't it odd," asked Justice
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that the goal of the 1974 law was to add people, yet the government now argues that Congress intended to subtract coverage for home care workers who had previously been covered?

"We think it was well within the agency's discretion," the lawyer for the federal government replied.

The case is Long Island Care at Home, Ltd., v. Evelyn Coke, 06-593.

Joh 9:4  I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
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