Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘domestic employees’

'Councilwoman' shows Carmen Castillo's inspiring fight as a hotel housekeeper and a city leader

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

Providence City Councilwoman Carmen Castillo is a deeply inspiring case: an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, she arrived in the U.S. with three children and got a job as a hotel housekeeper. After she helped organize her coworkers in a union, she ran for city council and won. But Castillo’s fight wasn’t over there, as the documentary Councilwoman—airing Tuesday night—shows.

On the city council, she kept up the fight for better wages, only to have the heavily Democratic Rhode Island state legislature pull a classically Republican move—a Scott Walker move, an Alabama move—by blocking cities and towns from raising their minimum wages. Councilwoman shows that fight, and Castillo’s fight for reelection, all as she continued working full-time as a hotel housekeeper.

Castillo’s story is incredible, and Councilwoman is worth a watch. It will premiere on U.S. television and online at 8 PM ET on Tuesday, September 3, on WORLD Channel’s America ReFramed. You can stream it on worldchannel.orgamdoc.org, all station-branded PBS platforms including PBS.org, and on PBS apps.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on September 2, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

Does the Fair Labor Standards Act Hate Home Care Workers?

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Image: Richard NegriFor the last few months I’ve been thinking about and writing about home care workers. In my work, I find that if folks haven’t had to hire a homecare worker for themselves or their family, it appears that most of these workers fall off the radar.

The problem here is somewhat circular. The demand for homecare services is exploding as the baby boomer generation ages and more seniors and people with disabilities choose to live at home rather than in a nursing home. Low wages, no federal minimum wage or overtime protections, and no benefits contribute to homecare workers leaving their profession (turnover is estimated to be as high as 60% per year). Consumers and patients have difficulty finding and keeping homecare services as a result. Which leads to – yes – increasing demand for homecare workers.

How did this happen?

scales-250.jpgWell, it goes all the way back to 1938 when the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was enacted to ensure a minimum standard of living for workers through the provision of minimum wage, overtime pay, and other protections – but domestic workers, for some reason, were excluded.

Then 36 years later, in 1974, the FLSA was amended to include domestic employees, such as housekeepers, full-time nannies, chauffeurs, and cleaners. However, people who were described as “companions to the elderly or infirm” were for some reason excluded from the law. They were compared to “babysitters.” Weird, huh?

The following year, in 1975, the Department of Labor (DOL) goes on to interpret this “companionship exemption” as including all direct-care workers in the home, even homecare workers employed by third parties, such as home care agencies.

So, in 2001, the Clinton DOL finds that “significant changes in the home care industry” have occurred and issues a “notice of proposed rulemaking” that would have made important changes to this weird exemption. They agreed that it made no sense to exclude this whole industry, as if they were just like “babysitters.”

Clinton’s findings were unfortunately short-lived because the incoming Bush Administration terminated the revision process. Thank you, Mr. Bush.

In 2007 something else happened worth noting: The US Supreme Court, in a case brought by New York home care attendant Evelyn Coke, upheld the DOL’s authority to define this exception to the FLSA. This means, this crazy archaic law can easily be reversed by the DOL.

Meanwhile more than 1.5 million homecare workers are currently living at near poverty level earning a median income of $17,000 a year. Most of these workers, who both love their work and are good at their work, must have two and three jobs to just make ends meet. Many of these workers need food stamps to put food on their tables. All this ultimately comes back to the consumer who often finds it difficult to find and retain high quality homecare services.

The injustice here is, as was said in a June 6 NY Times Op-Ed, ” …while nannies and caregivers make it possible for professional couples to balance the demands of family and work, they often cannot take time to be with their own families when sickness or injury strikes.”

Though I inherently know that we can fix this problem together, I am keen to know what you think is the best way to make this happen.

This article originally appeared on the SEIU Blog.

About the Author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

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