NYS not so progressive for home health aides

On your way to work this morning after the long Labor Day weekend? Imagine that you will get paid for only half of the work you do today.

Now, think of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s boasting about labor endorsements ahead of next week’s state primary vote, painting himself as a champion of workers’ rights. Except that his own Department of Labor has devised a way to pay some workers half of what they deserve, arguing that higher labor costs would cripple the industry.

As the Village Voice reported recently, home health aides who are often funded by the state to provide vital in-home care to the elderly and the disabled, have been receiving 13 hours’ pay even when they work a 24-hour shift. Remarkably, that’s state policy. Despite lawsuit outcomes and court rulings in favor of the workers — including a $1 million settlement in a Massachusetts case last year — New York has argued that because the workers might sleep during that time, they shouldn’t be paid for 11 of those hours.

Many aides dispute that reasoning. Elvia, a former home health aide who spoke on condition that I didn’t use her last name for fear of reprisal, says that when she stayed at a client’s home overnight, she’d constantly get up to fetch pain meds or change diapers. In effect, she was on call all night. Recently, the Mexican immigrant and mother of four was hit by a car and has not been able to return to work. She says she might not go back, though that hasn’t stopped her from rallying with others to overturn the 13-hour rule as part of the “Ain’t I A Woman” campaign.

The 13-hour rule is unfair. Firefighters, for example, routinely work 24-hour tours. They may sleep, cook or relax during that time, but they are ready when the job calls and are paid the full 24 hours. Should they earn half of their tour? Home health aides in New York, many of whom are immigrants, are on call for some our most vulnerable populations.

It’s amazing that in 2018, workers have to fight be paid fairly in a state that claims to be among the most progressive in the country. When my mother came to this country from Colombia, she performed care work and cleaned houses (which she still does) to make ends meet. It’s hard but honest work.

It’d be nice if the state could also be honest and ensure that home health aides are paid appropriately.

Josmar Trujillo is a trainer, writer and activist.