Character Matters: President Obama Extends Wage and Overtime Protections to Home Care Workers

The presidency is a powerful position. So powerful that it makes it easy to forget the reason one entered public service. But this president, President Obama, never forgets. Today was another shining example of a president who never forgets about the Americans who work hard, don't ask for much, and deserve better than they're getting. Today, the administration announced final regulations to include home care workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act, making them eligible for minimum wage and overtime pay staring in 2015.
...the U.S. Department of Labor announced a final rule today extending the Fair Labor Standards Act's minimum wage and overtime protections to most of the nation's workers who provide essential home care assistance to elderly people and people with illnesses, injuries or disabilities. This change will result in nearly two million direct care workers — such as home health aides, personal care aides and certified nursing assistants — receiving the same basic protections already provided to most U.S. workers.
Home care workers are some of the hardest workers doing some of the most important work in our country with the least amount of rewards. They care for the most vulnerable Americans - the elderly, the disabled, and people with serious injuries and illnesses. They do some of the toughest work - bathing, cleaning, moving and comforting people who cannot do it on their own.

The people they care for are our parents, our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, our sons and daughters, the people we love the most. And today, the people we entrust with this critical care can breathe a little easy knowing that while they're looking out for the society's most vulnerable, they have a president who is looking out for them. Today, they know that their president won't sit idly by while their employers (home care agencies) take advantage of lax labor rules to line their corporate pockets.

Of course, this isn't just a matter of doing the right thing - not that that wouldn't be reason enough. This is also about ensuring high quality services by making sure the professionals who provide these critical services are treated like professionals. This is as much about protecting quality care for the recipients of their services as much as it is about the workers who do this amazing work.

Let's talk a little about the workers who do this work. 90 percent of them are women, 32 percent are African Americans and 12 percent Hispanics. Notice something? These are also the groups with the highest poverty rates in this country. A good part of that wage disparity is because of labor rules that value their work less than the work of the rest, because we have regulations that say the industry they provide their critical skills and services to does not have to abide by the same rules of fair labor standards as everyone else.

Well, no more. Because of President Obama, a home care worker will no longer be equated with a babysitter.

The Republicans and corporate interest groups are howling with their tired old talking point that affording basic worker protections to hard working caregivers will cost jobs, hours, and fewer people availing themselves to the services provided by these working people. The Labor Department countered that of there has been no noticeable drop in employment in this industry in the 15 states that already extend minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers.

My favorite quote from my favorite fictional president, Andrew Sheppard of American President, is this: "Being president is entirely about character." These are the acts that show the president's character. Character isn't about following the polls or hogging the limelight or hob-nobbing with the elite. Character of a president is about what he does when nobody is looking, on issues no one is sending out e-newsletters (with big donate buttons) about, for ordinary people who need help. Character is about doing the right thing by those who have no voice, those who are bone-tired from working hard and never ask for a handout, those who do not have the money to donate to a political campaign or the time to sign a petition. Character is about being the president for the least of us.

That's why it matters who the president is. "Big issues" may hog the spotlight, but you know the heart, the character of a president by what he is willing to do to fight for the voiceless - especially when the spotlights are off, especially when the political air is sucked out by the glamour of the beltway.

The Administration's announcement today is another example of a president who is always looking for ways to make life better for the least of us, a president who is always looking out for those who cannot hire a lobbyist to roam the halls of power. That's why I am so proud that Barack Obama is my president.