The term wage slavery is a pejorative term used to criticize economic exploitation and social stratification affecting large groups of a workforce. Wage slavery is a result of unequal bargaining power between labor and capital best represented by workers slaving for long hours and poverty wages in sweatshops. Republicans have given every indication that between their opposition to raising the minimum wage, and desire to abolishing it altogether, nothing would please them or their Chamber of Commerce and corporate funders more than a population earning slave wages.
It is likely that most big industries would love nothing more than having Republicans pass legislation exempting them from paying the minimum wage and, despite the nation’s labor laws, one of the fastest growing, lowest paying industries in the nation succeeded in not only winning an exemption from paying minimum wage, they were exempted from overtime laws. One law, 1974’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), requires American employers to pay their domestic workers at least the minimum wage as well as extra pay for overtime hours. Earlier in the year, the Department of Labor expanded FLSA to cover home care providers who were left out of minimum wage and overtime laws due to industry leaders designating their work as nothing but providing “fellowship” for elderly sick and disabled people.
The home care industry interpreted the exemption broadly to deny basic labor rights from all their employees who provide medical care, feed, clothe, and bathe Americans too sick to care for themselves. In 2007, the conservative Supreme Court ruled that an employer forcing a woman to work extremely long hours was within its right to refuse giving overtime pay because regardless the extent of the care the woman provided, it was designated “fellowship and protection.” The Department of Labor issued a new rule forbidding the practice beginning January 1, 2015.
On Monday, just in time to stop implementation of the Department of Labor’s rule change, a U.S. District Judge, Richard Leon, bowed to industry pressure and struck down the change that would finally give minimum wage and overtime pay protections to home care workers. While the Labor Department’s rule change was meant to protect worker’s rights, the Judge protected Home Care Associates, the International Franchise Association, and the National Association for Home Care & Hospice rights to make bigger profits. The rapidly-growing industry’s leaders convinced the judge that paying the minimum wage, and the outrageous idea of overtime pay, was an abomination and would have a “destabilizing impact” on the nation’s fastest-growing industry.
According to the judge’s ruling, home care workers who are employed by agencies and other third-party employers can legally be denied the minimum wage and overtime pay if “agencies and third-party employers” claim the workers provide “fellowship” rather than more in-depth care. Workers employed by agencies can also be denied overtime pay. The only thing the “agencies, third-party employers” and judge did not decide, yet, is that home health care providers have to work for free; but that is likely the next logical step in the very near future to avoid the “destabilizing the impact” on the industry of having to pay its employees at all.
Although home care workers make up one of the fastest-growing industries in America with an aging population, they are clearly one of the lowest paid. The workforce’s median wage is about $20,000 a year, and it represents a 5% income decline since 2003 after adjusting for inflation. Like an ever-growing number of American workers, because they are prohibited from earning the federal minimum wage, most workers live below the federal poverty line. In fact, about a third of workers in New York City earn less than $15,000 annually, and clearly 40% of them are dependent on vanishing public benefits just to survive; it is the epitome of a slave wage workforce.
Even if the home care workforce could earn the federal minimum of $7.25 hourly, they still could not support themselves. Subsequently they have joined forces with the growing fast food worker movement protesting for a minimum raise increase of $15.00 per hour. The work home care providers toil at can be long, grueling, and constant and not, as the industry claims providing “fellowship and protect;” like a babysitter. One home care provider who has worked for the same mentally disabled client for ten years giving around-the-clock care for 199 hours every two weeks complained she has never had a penny of overtime pay. She said, “The work I do is not companionship or babysitting,” but because the industry designates her as providing “fellowship” for the she barely subsists in poverty, and she is not alone.
As the population ages, the number of home healthcare providers will grow by 70% within the next five years. As of early 2014, there were 2.5 million home care providers barely surviving due to working without minimum wage or overtime pay which is why the Department of Labor made the rule change. The real issue is that despite the explosion in available jobs, the demand for home health care providers will far outpace supply within the next decade and better wages and worker protections would make the difficult jobs more appealing. However, like fast food and large retail chains like Walmart and McDonald’s, the home healthcare industry will never voluntarily raise wages.
President Obama has called for raising the minimum wage to no avail, and in the recent midterm elections, voters in four states overwhelmingly approved raising the minimum wage. But the same voters also elected Republicans to Congress who have, ad nauseum, stated they have no interest or intent on raising the minimum and a growing number are in favor of abolishing the federal minimum. In fact, last year House Republicans passed so-called “jobs legislation” abolishing overtime pay, and several Republican states banned current and future legislation raising the minimum wage, offering sick leave, and sick pay.
Americans want higher wages for their increased, and world-leading, productivity, but they will never get it as long as Republicans hold a majority in either house of Congress. Americans are also aging and at the rate Republican governors and legislatures are raiding pensions, lusting to slash Social Security, and keep home care providers at poverty levels, many of those aging Americans are going to be on their own because Republicans and the home care industry avidly believe the path to prosperity is a population mired in wage slavery.