Today the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in a case which could decide whether home health aides are entitled to federal minimum wage, and the protection of federal overtime laws. The lead plaintiff, Evelyn Coke, a Jamaican immigrant who raised five children as a single mother, and is now 73 years old and reportedly quite infirm herself (with diabetes and kidney problems), is represented by lawyers working with Service Employees International Union(SEIU). She’s challenging a 1975 Labor Department rule which exempts the home health aide industry from the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Evelyn Coke’s case is significant because it could profoundly affect the lives of workers in this industry, a fast-growing one as our population ages. Most home health care workers are women. They toil for sub-Wal-Mart hourly wages (the average is $8.05 per hour), in addition to being deprived of the rights most other workers enjoy.
But Long Island Care at Home vs. Coke is also important because improved rights and wages can lead to better-quality care, and could help address a critical shortage of such workers (there’s already a a shortage, and it is projected to get much worse in the coming years).
That’s why the American Association of Retired Persons filed a brief supporting Coke. This case — as well as, just as importantly, SEIU’s organizing in this industry — should matter to all of us.
Why? Because we’re all going to be old some day.