In 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama participated in the SEIU’s “walk a day in my shoes” campaign, in which politicians spent a day with SEIU members at their jobs. He spent his day with home care worker Pauline Beck. Thursday, she was at the White House for the announcement of the Obama administration’s proposal to extend minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers. In his remarks introducing the proposal, Obama spoke about his day with her, saying, “One day, back in 2007, Pauline was my boss…and I have tell you, it ended up being one of my favorite days of the entire campaign.”
And one of the things I remember about Pauline was her patience. She was patient with me even when I didn’t wring out the mop properly or didn’t shake out the sheets before putting them in the laundry bin. But I also remember listening to her talk about the hardships in her life, and she did so without any self-pity. She was glad to be working hard and she was glad to be helping someone. All she wanted in return for a hard day’s work was enough to take care of those kids she was going home to, enough to save a little bit for retirement, maybe take a day off once in a while to rest her aching back. [...]
But here’s the thing: As the homecare business has changed over the years, the law hasn’t changed to keep up. So even though workers like Pauline do everything from bathing to cooking, they’re still lumped in the same category as teenage babysitters when it comes to how much they make. That means employers are allowed to pay these workers less than minimum wage with no overtime. That’s right — you can wake up at 5:00 in the morning, care for somebody every minute of the day, take the late bus home at night, and still make less than the minimum wage. And this means that many homecare workers are forced to rely on things like food stamps just to make ends meet.
That’s just wrong. In this country, it’s unexcusable.
He also spoke about the reason it’s necessary for his administration to take this action:
Four years ago, a homecare worker named Evelyn Coke took her case all the way up to the Supreme Court. And Evelyn was working up to 70 hours a week with no overtime pay. But the Court ruled against her, saying that to change the law would require action from Congress or the Department of Labor. I’m sure many of you won’t be surprised to know that Congress hasn’t acted on this issue so far.
Today, I will.
(It will take 60 days for his action to go into effect. But finally, we’re on the way there.)