We live in a nation where millions of people are in need of care to get through the day. Whether they are in the twilight of their life or a victim of illness or a life-changing accident, Americans across the country depend on home care workers to make their lives better. These caregivers perform vital tasks like feeding and bathing their clients, cleaning and cooking, and providing much needed companionship. Today, there are about 2.5 million home care workers and the field is expected to grow by 70 percent in just the next five years as more and more individuals get to the age where they require assistance.
Unfortunately many home care workers don't receive fair payment for their work nor do they receive respect for their services. The original Fair Labor Standards Act did not include home care workers. Across the country, home care workers and their allies started organizing to petition the Department of Labor (DoL) to change the regulations to include home care workers. The Pilipino Workers Center of Los Angeles and Associate Director Lolita Lledo was one such group working to make sure those who care for the elderly and individuals with disabilities in their homes, would be granted the same labor protections as all other workers. Finally, in 2013 the DoL made the change to protect home care workers. It was a huge win. However, the victory was short lived. Soon after the DoL's ruling, a district court judge ruled that the DoL did not have the authority to make those types of changes. However, the resilience and courage of home care workers to keep pushing finally paid off. This month, a Washington, DC court ruled in favor of the DoL's protections for home care workers.
We celebrate the DC Court of Appeals' decision to extend basic wage protections to those who care for sick and elderly members of our family and community. As people of faith, we are called to stand with the most vulnerable members of society, including the ill and infirm and those who care for them. All labor has dignity, especially when it enhances the well-being of the sick among us. Protecting the rights of home care workers is to defend the dignity of not only the worker, but the patient as well.
Although the court's ruling is a big step forward for a workforce that is 90 percent female, home care workers continue to struggle for better wages and working conditions: nearly 40 percent of the entire workforce relies on some form of public assistance to make ends meet. Communities of faith throughout the country stand in support of home care workers, remembering Deuteronomy 24:14-15, "Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin." Many other verses in holy books from faith traditions across the globe share these same values.
Pope Francis, who will be visiting the US on a three-city tour in September, has spoken very clearly on the matter, saying that "there is no worse material poverty, I am keen to stress, than the poverty which prevents people from earning their bread and deprives them of the dignity of work." We expect to hear more on the subject of income inequality and worker justice when the Pope addresses Congress during his visit to Washington, DC. The Pope's visit will leave us with a great opportunity: the opportunity to do some real soul-searching and ask some hard questions. "Are we living our values through our public policy?" "Are our values in the right place?"
As Senator Paul Wellstone once said, "After all, our values are only our values if we are willing to stand up for them." I know Lolita Lledo and organizers like her are standing up for the values they believe in. How about you, America? Will you stand with home care workers?