On Friday, September 21, Members of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, the New England Jewish Labor Committee, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance joined forces to visit U.S. Senate offices in Boston, New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland, Austin, Minneapolis, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
Bend the Arc members shared apples and honey, blew the shofar as a wake-up call to justice, gave Senate staffers a Rosh Hashanah card tying the holiday to home care worker labor protections, and delivered literally hundreds of public comments in support of the home care worker labor protections from Bend the Arc leaders in Senators’ home states.
While the federal Fair Labor Standards Act has guaranteed most workers a minimum wage since the 1930s, home care workers have been excluded due to a longstanding history of racial and gender discrimination. Last December President Obama proposed a rule change that would bring home care workers into the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act, guaranteeing that they receive at least the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25/hour). The proposed change was the subject of a public comment period that generated about 26,000 comments, 80 percent of them supportive. Bend the Arc and their partner organizations generated more than 5,000 of those 26,000 emails and letters.
Home care is a vital issue for the Jewish community, as it is for all Americans. It is also one of the fastest growing industries and biggest areas of job creation in the United States. The number of new home care jobs will grow by 70 percent, or by 1,313,200 jobs, over the next eight years as the nation’s population continues to age. Without including home care workers in basic federal labor protections, those jobs won’t be able to attract the skilled workforce to care for the elderly and ill people who want to remain at home, rather than be institutionalized. We know this because currently half of all home care workers leave the job each year due to low pay and difficult working conditions.
Friday’s senate office visits were part of a national day of action. This is happening now because some members of the home care industry don’t want to have to pay their workers the minimum wage and have lobbied members of Congress to introduce legislation opposing the rule change. Bills to kill the rule change have been introduced in both houses.