Michigan Rep. Tim Walberg wants to pay home caregivers less than minimum wage - TAI News
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The $7.25 hourly federal minimum wage has not been increased since 2009. But if Michigan Republican Rep. Tim Walberg gets his way, home care workers might be paid even less than that.

On Jan. 25, he and two Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives introduced a bill that would reverse a 2013 Department of Labor rule requiring that federal minimum wage and overtime laws be applied to workers who provide companionship care to older people and those with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses. If the bill is enacted, those workers would no longer be covered by wage protections.

“As America’s population of seniors and individuals with disabilities continues to grow, there is a greater need for companion care,” Walberg said in a press release. “However, over the years, the Department of Labor’s misguided regulation has limited affordable access to in-home care for vulnerable Americans. My legislation would reverse this rule to ensure that these individuals have the option to receive quality care in the comfort of their own homes instead of being forced to leave their homes and enter institutional living. The legislation will also empower independent caregivers by allowing them to determine their own work relationships with families, free from government regulations.”

The exemption is strongly backed by the Private Care Association, a trade association representing home care businesses, which said the bill “reaffirms Congress’s 1974 commitment to keep home care affordable for working families and empowers caregivers to determine their work relationships with families, free from government restrictions.” The group’s political action committee made two donations to Walberg in 2023 totalling $3,000, making him their single largest cash recipient so far this election cycle. 

Companion care workers and their advocates oppose the bill, saying it would hurt both caregivers and the people who rely on them.

“Anyone who puts in a hard, honest day’s work should be paid a living wage, including home care workers. We are more than just companions; we are skilled healthcare professionals who serve as our clients’ lifelines,” Phyllis Pride, a home care worker from Ecorse, Michigan, told the Michigan Independent in a statement. “The end of a shift doesn’t mean our work is done. Sometimes, we spend several more hours with our clients because their care needs can’t wait until tomorrow. We don’t have a choice but to put in overtime, and we deserve to be compensated.”

Pride noted that eliminating wage protections for workers like her would discourage people from working as caregivers. “If consumer-directed home care workers are denied wages and benefits that reflect the true value of this work, many will have no choice but to leave the jobs we love for a line of work that pays more,” she said. “The companionship exemption will only make it more difficult for families to find the skilled, compassionate caregivers they need to help their loved ones live at home.”

In Nevada, a decade of stagnant wages averaging $11 an hour created “a crisis-level workforce shortage” for home care, according to SEIU Local 1107. A spokesperson for the union, Dave Bates, said in an email that a $16 minimum wage for the state’s home care workers went into effect on Jan. 1, an increase he described as life-changing.

“Not only have workers and their families benefited, but clients and employers have too,” Bates said. “It’s obvious that the minimum wage and funding increase will help recruit and retain more workers so clients can find and keep caregivers.”

The National Domestic Workers Alliance, which advocates for domestic workers, has worked to pass domestic workers’ bills of rights in 11 states and the District of Columbia that include minimum wage protections. “Domestic workers should be at least paid the minimum wage,” its website notes, “and they should be entitled to overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours in a week.” Michigan has not yet adopted such a law.

A spokesperson for Walberg did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

With House Republicans mired in infighting and struggling to pass any legislation and with a Democratic majority in the Senate, the bill is unlikely to be enacted this year.

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