The Fair Labor Standards Act – the law that gave us the minimum wage and the 40-hour work-week – turns 75 on Tuesday. President Obama could commemorate the day by taking a long-overdue action that would fulfill a campaign promise and heal a deep scar in the nation’s New Deal legacy: Include home care workers in the act’s protections.
Steve Kornacki explained the history of the exclusion of home care workers this past weekend in MSNBC’s “Up with Steve Kornacki.”
What is almost forgotten in the history of this law is that home care and domestic workers were originally left out of the minimum-wage, work-week and overtime protections at the behest of southern lawmakers who objected to workers in these categories, who were predominately African American, earning the same wages as white people. Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to surrender to this overtly racist exemption to the law to secure better wages and working conditions for the rest of the workforce.
That was changed for most of the left-out workers by the 1970s, but 2 million home health-care workers are still outside the Fair Labor Standards Act provisions. Almost nine out of 10 of them are female, more than half are people of color, and a large percentage have to supplement their meager earnings with public assistance, according to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute.
What’s also true is that home care is an $84 billion industry; it’s not individuals in need turning to a neighbor down the street. There are corporations, and specifically corporate executives, who are being paid handsomely for managing and marketing home care services. It is about time that the people who do the actual hard work of providing home care received a fair wage. President Obama says he agrees. It is now time to deliver.