After DREAM Order, Fair Pay for Home Care Workers
Earlier this month, immigrant communities around the country celebrated President Obama’s announcement that undocumented immigrant youth would be granted relief from deportation and temporary work authorization.
The new policy, however, reaches only a fraction of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom are left to live and work in the shadows. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that approximately 8 million unauthorized immigrants participated in the workforce in 2010 — around 5.2 perecent of the workforce. These workers tend to work in traditionally low-wage but high growth occupations such as agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and service industries, where workers face the greatest risk of exploitation.
As we celebrate the 74th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which was passed in 1938 this week, we should recommit to ensuring that the most vulnerable workers — regardless of their national origin or immigration status — have protection from unscrupulous employers. Especially with decisions coming down like United States v. Arizona, which widens the door for racial profiling by local law enforcement, laws like FLSA become all the more important.
One of the best ways we can support the rights of immigrant workers today is to extend minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers, many of whom are immigrants. Right now, the 2.5 million workers in the home care industry are categorically excluded from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime protections, regardless of their citizenship status. Although the Department of Labor is finally revising the rules to cover home care workers by federal wage and hour laws, lobbying from industry groups concerned about their profits could cause the new rules to be shelved.
For decades, courts have agreed that the FLSA applies to immigrants, including those who are unauthorized to work in the United States under federal law. Enforcement of these labor laws discourages bottom-feeding employers from exploiting these workers — and protects all workers, including the millions of U.S. citizens who work alongside immigrant workers. These protections also help law-abiding employers compete for business and ensure that the wage floor is upheld in our country’s largest industries.
But as growing industries become increasingly dependent on immigrant labor, we must ensure that these workers have the ability to exercise their rights under the FLSA.
Foreign-born workers are much more likely to face minimum wage and overtime violations than their native-born counterparts — and the numbers are even higher for undocumented workers. A recent study found that almost 40 percent of undocumented low-wage workers had worked for less than minimum wage, in comparison to 15 percent of their native-born counterparts. Immigrant workers are also disproportionately likely to be injured or killed on the job. And sexual violence against immigrant women in industries such as agricultural labor, domestic work, and other industries is widespread.
The best way we can build on President Obama’s recent announcement on young immigrants is to ensure that existing protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act can be exercised by all workers. As a first step, it’s time to extend the promise of minimum wage and overtime coverage to the nation’s home care workers –- all of them.
Eunice Cho is a staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project’s Immigrant Worker Justice Project, and runs the blog www.immigrantworkerjustice.org.