Kessler: Home care aides deserve labor protections
Like 60 percent of all family caregivers, I juggle both a job and caregiving duties. My mother -- who was always loving, giving, active and independent -- has advanced Alzheimer's disease and has become completely dependent.
Fortunately, she has been lovingly and capably cared for by the same home care worker I hired through an agency five years ago. I credit this person 100 percent with the good physical health and good spirits that my mother enjoys, despite the devastating toll the disease has had on her life.
Were it not for the services of a home care aide, I would have had to stop working to care for my mother, and would have become financially and psychologically devastated myself. Instead, I've been able to continue working while ensuring that my mother gets the care she needs.
Not only does the aide do the standard tasks of dressing, bathing, toileting and ensuring my mom is safe, but she also does meal planning, food shopping and cooking. She watches to see if my mom isn't feeling well or if something isn't right. And she maintains her quality of life through music, dancing, taking her outdoors, involving her in conversation, laughter and taking her to the community center.
Alzheimer's disease affects a person's moods and ability to communicate and follow directions. Caring for my mother requires skill. I couldn't possibly do it on my own. Yet home care workers are excluded from the federal minimum wage and overtime protections afforded to most workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) -- an injustice that was upheld by the Supreme Court six years ago. These workers are instead considered to be mere baby sitters or "companions" -- a far cry from what the job really entails.
President Barack Obama promised 18 months ago to end the decades-old "companionship exemption" under FLSA by changing the regulation. The vast contribution of home care workers needs to be recognized as important to our society, and a fair wage for all workers guaranteed. It's time: This week marks the 75th anniversary of FLSA.
Home care workers have waited long enough.
Ellyn Kessler is an attorney who lives on the Upper East Side.