Labor advocates praised a Georgia Supreme Court decision this week in favor of a class action on behalf of home care workers.
The decision, handed down in Anderson et al v. Southern Home Care Services, permitted a class action suit to go forward against the company, supporting the long-term goals of bolstering workers’ wages and conditions, according to the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
Home care workers were not included in the 1938 federal law that established the minimum wage. A change in federal regulation this year extended that protection to them, but the suit covers time before that change.
Workers bringing the case argued that even though they might not have been guaranteed the federal minimum, they should been guaranteed the state minimum, which is $5.15 an hour. They argued that pay should include the time spent traveling to and from the homes where they worked.
“Sometimes I have to travel an hour from one client to the next just to give a 15-minute shower,” said Precious Boston, a home care worker and member of the Atlanta chapter of the workers’ group. “We deserve proper compensation for all of the time that we work, and dignity and respect for the important work that we do.”
Many home care workers provide services to people with disabilities and older people, so demand is likely to rise as baby boomers age, organizers said.
Average wages of home care workers are only a little above the federal poverty line, and many are paid less, said Lovette Kargbo-Thompson, an organizer for the group. “The majority of home care workers are women of color and increasingly immigrants, earning poverty wages.”
In a unanimous decision, Chief Justice David Nahmias wrote that there were two questions to be decided: whether home care workers are prevented by the 1938 law from being guaranteed a minimum wage, and whether they are prevented from a minimum wage guarantee by Georgia’s minimum wage law.
“We answer both of these questions no.”
The case was brought in 2013, according to Home Health Care News, which said that almost 2 million home care workers were potentially affected by the changes in regulations this year.
The Labor Department “only recently began enforcement of its rule, meaning the (1938) provisions now apply to the Georgia workers involved in the case, but they didn’t during the time in question,” Home Health Care News reported.
The case was bought in federal court, but was transferred to the Georgia Supreme Court for a ruling on the state law. It now returns to federal court.
Plaintiffs in the case were Margaret Anderson, Mary Dixon, Latasha Williams, and Kyonnie Sutherland. Defendants were Res–Care and subsidiary Southern Home Care Services.
Kristy Trenaman, a spokeswoman for the company, said Friday she could not comment since the case was still pending in court.
In discussing the federal law, the court found that the exemption was aimed at people doing work at the homes of their employers, not those working for a company that placed them into clients’ homes.
Among other discussion of the Georgia law, Nahmias wrote, that Georgia law was meant to include workers who were not covered by federal minimum wage provisions “like the employees in this case, and who thus could benefit from a state minimum wage, albeit one lower than the federal one.”
He also wrote: “It hardly seems absurd that the General Assembly would want such a minimal level of wage protection for this category of employee.”