By Austin McCoy
On December 15, 2011, the Obama administration announced “administration action” to protect the nation’s 1.7 million home care workers. President Obama called for the establishment of minimum wage and overtime standards that all workers recognized in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) received. These new reforms would virtually eliminate the “elder companion exemption” in the FLSA that Congress established in 1974 which allowed home care employers to continue their exploitation of home care workers.
President Obama delivered this announcement four years after the Supreme Court decided unanimously that the case’s plaintiff Evelyn Coke, and other home care workers, were not entitled to minimum wage protections and overtime pay. Like most home care workers, Evelyn Coke worked long hours for little pay. Coke performed what scholars Jennifer Klein and Elieen Boris call “intimate labor”—she cooked, cleaned, and bathed her clients. Coke worked 24 hour shifts often and she worked decades without receiving benefits. When Coke decided to sue for back pay, the Supreme Court ruled against her, reinforcing the historical stigmatization of intimate labor. Two years later, the home care workers’ movement lost Evelyn Coke. Home care workers are still waiting for Obama’s “administration action” four years after the ruling.