NCLEJ Files Brief in Support of Home Care Workers Challenging Abusive Arbitration Award

Contact: Carmela Huang, National Center for Law and Economic Justice | 

New York, NY — Today, National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ), filed a “friend of the court” brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on behalf of itself, The Legal Aid Society and Catholic Migration Services. The brief supports workers’ longstanding efforts to stop the certification of an arbitration award between 1199SEIU and 42 home care agencies that would compensate home care workers for only a fraction of their stolen wages. Workers assigned to 24-hour “live-in” shifts typically receive payment for only 13 hours of work, even though they have to work for all 24 hours. Although 1199SEIU had previously estimated that the workers were owed as much as $5-6 billion, the award requires each agency to contribute only $250 per employee. More than 110,000 home care aides would be covered by the award. 

NCLEJ’s brief demonstrates that wage theft is endemic because of problems that originate at the state-level and lead to home care workers being paid sometimes 61% less than what they actually earned. The brief also shows that alarmist rhetoric sowing fear about industry collapse is used to justify continued wage theft.

The brief points to the experiences of several women of color who suffered because of practices covered by the arbitration award. ​​One such worker is Xue Rou Xie, a client of Legal Aid, who worked for agency Chinese-American Planning Council Home Attendant Program, Inc. (CPC). From January 2013 until June 2018, when Ms. Xie retired from work, Ms. Xie worked between 72 and 96 hours each week. Ms. Xie did not sleep or have meal breaks when she worked, but was never paid more than 13 hours per shift. Despite having extremely modest monthly expenses and paying only $400 in monthly rent and $20 for her telephone bill, Ms. Xie was left with only $20-$40 per month in savings to cover emergencies because the wages she received were so low.

Another worker mentioned in the brief, Belkis Cid de Bruno, has worked three consecutive 24-hour shifts for agency Cooperative Home Care since March 2014. She was only ever paid thirteen hours for every 24-hour shift. In September 2016, Ms. Cid de Bruno took on the same consecutive shifts for a second agency. Between the two agencies, Ms. Cid de Bruno worked six 24-hour shifts per week for three years. She never received the legally mandated five hours of sleep or three hours of meal breaks. She was paid less than half of what she earned. And less than half of her true income was covered by Social Security and credited towards her pension benefits. Now, after “retiring,” Ms. Cid de Bruno continues to work three consecutive 24-hour shifts despite suffering chronic health issues from her career caring for those needing around the clock assistance.

Today’s legal action drawing attention to home care aides falling into poverty because of wage theft follows NCLEJ’s move last month to file a complaint citing these workers’ rights protected under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against discrimination. NCLEJ demanded federal investigation of the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) and New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) for their discrimination against home care workers and home care consumers.

Overwhelmingly immigrant women of color, home care aides comprise one of the largest workforces in New York State. Growing quickly, this group more than doubled between 2006 and 2021. Suffering from high levels of poverty, a recent report issued by the New York City Council’s Committee on Civil Service & Labor estimates that “a full-time home care aide [working in New York City] can expect to earn just $31,200 per year, well under New York City poverty thresholds.” One in four home care workers in New York City lives below the federal poverty line; statewide that figure is estimated to be as high as 50%.