It wasn’t just the rhapsodic business-lovers like Alito, Thomas and the rest; it was all of them. They voted unanimously, 9-0, to deny federal overtime protection to home health care workers employed by agencies.
In 2003, 73 year old Evelyn Coke to sued her employer, Long Island Care at Home, after more than 20 years of work that, as SEIU noted, “sometimes entailed four 24-hour days a week, sleeping at a client’s home, rarely receiving time-and-a-half compensation for the overtime work hours.”
The case challenged an exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act which equated home care workers as casual helpers such as babysitters, thus permitting home care agencies to deny home care workers time-and-a-half or—although that was not the discussed issue in today’s ruling—even minimum wage
As the Los Angeles Times observed, “With an estimated 1 million workers now assisting the elderly and the injured in their homes, unions and civil rights groups had urged the justices to repeal the rule because it deprives many of the nation's lowest-paid workers of a decent wage.”
But it’s not merely that the workers are low-paid; they belong to a class that are traditionally low-paid.. According to Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, “It means that home care workers, who are overwhelmingly low-income women of color, will continue to be unfairly treated despite providing essential services to our growing elderly and disabled population. Employers in the home care industry should, like other businesses, be required to comply with modest, but vital, labor protections.”
These “modest but vital” protections were flawed from the start. Congress passed the FLSA in 1938, and for the first time in American history, the Supreme Court upheld the law. But in order to pass it in the first place, the Roosevelt administration had to win over crucial Southern Democratic votes. In the end the administration agreed to exempt most rural, agricultural workers and domestic workers, most of whom just happened to be African American.
Various court rulings had narrowed the exemptions, but today’s court, with its vision planted firmly in the 19th century, reversed that trend and continued to treat women of color as less worthy than other workers.
The Bush administration had argued that if Congress had intended for home health care workers to be included under the act, then it would have made the inclusion specific. Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing in the opinion, concurred with the administration. “Where an agency rule sets forth important individual rights and duties. . . and where the rule itself is reasonable, then a court ordinarily assumes that Congress intended it to defer to the agency's determination,’ said Breyer
In other words, an injustice of the Jim Crow era should be allowed to stand nearly 70 years later because the court thinks that’s what Congress intended at the time. Then why not reinstitute the Fugitive Slave Law and really cut down on those intrusive wage and hour laws?
It isn’t over. The law does not say that Long Island Care at Home and its equally parsimonious brethren can’t pay overtime, only that the law won’t force them to. Sounds like just the job for a strong union. SEIU, you’re wanted in makeup.
| Tuesday, June 12, 2007 10:12 AM