NELP pushes for minimum wage extension

March 20, 2012 at 3:52 PM

WASHINGTON, March 20 (UPI) -- A national employment watchdog group told a U.S. House panel Tuesday it is time to end wage discrimination against home healthcare workers.

A Department of Labor proposal to give healthcare workers wage protection under minimum wage laws would apply to "the people who get our grandmothers out of bed in the morning and ensure our disabled neighbors live as independently as possible," National Employment Law Project Legal Co-Director Catherine Ruckelshaus said.

Extending minimum wage laws to cover healthcare workers, "would be perfectly manageable for the home care industry and good for both consumers and workers," Ruckelshaus said in a text prepared for the House Committee on Education & the Workforce.

Currently, 2.5 million U.S. workers are not given minimum wage protection under "a nearly 40-year-old rule," NELP said in a statement.

The Labor Department's proposal would update the definitions of "domestic service employment" and "companionship services," to allow more workers to fit the mainstream labor pool, which is granted various protections by federal statute.

It would also "eliminate the ability of third-party employers such as home care agencies to claim the exemption," NELP said. Further, it would change record-keeping requirements for employers of "live-in domestic workers," to align better with rules that apply to other workers.

In 1974, NELP said, Congress "carved out two narrow exceptions" to the Fair Labor Standards Act." One of those exemptions was for babysitters. The other was for "companions."

Among healthcare workers, the national average wage is $9.34 per hour which means "one in five [home healthcare] workers lives below the poverty line," NELP said.

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