Unions Set Sights on Home Health Care Industry

The government is paying more and more people to care for the elderly in their homes as the U.S. population ages. The Wall Street Journal reported that it’s triggered unions to attempt to organize these workers, who usually get low wages and few or no benefits. However, some question whether home health workers qualify to join a union, stating that many are caring for family members and relatives and could be conceived as being self-employed. A 2011 study authorized by the state of Michigan found that 75% of home-care providers in the state went into the field to care for a family member or friend. This has spurred debate in legislative branches over whether to allow or forbid these workers from unionizing.

Many home health care aides are employed directly by people with disabilities or their families, as opposed to working for a private agency. The workers are by and large paid with Medicaid or Medicare funds managed by the state.

The Labor Department expects the number of home health-care workers to reach 3.2 million by 2020, a 68% increase from 1.9 million in 2010.
Home health-care workers are also known as personal-care aides, and their daily duties usually include bathing, dressing and feeding the elderly and those with disabilities, and they did this for a median wage of $9.70 per hour in 2010, according to the Labor Department’s reports. Many of these workers don’t have health-care coverage themselves.

Democratic lawmakers and unions agree that workers receiving public funds are state employees and therefore can be unionized. However, many Republican lawmakers and those anti-unionization argue that personal-care aides are independent contracts and therefore don’t qualify to join unions.

An estimated 25 percent of home care workers in America belong to unions. Perks vary for unionized home-care workers. The article noted that in northern California, personal-care aides who are members of SEIU make more than $12 per hour and a small number of them have health care through union contracts. However, in Michigan, SEIU organized 41,000 home-care workers in 2005, and today, many earn only $8 an hour, just slightly more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. During the eight years of being a union member, those workers didn’t attain health benefits, sick leave, or vacation time.

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