Home care workers file federal complaint against New York over ‘discriminatory’ 24-hour shifts

Gothamist covered a complaint filed by NCLEJ demanding the federal government investigate the New York State Department of Health and Department of Labor for their discrimination against home care workers being forced to work 24-hour shifts. Excerpts below taken from the article by Caroline Lewis.

Labor groups representing home health aides filed a federal discrimination complaint Tuesday against the New York State Departments of Health and Labor for their handling of 24-hour home care shifts.

The complaint, which represents an escalation in the yearslong battle over these controversial shifts, stated the agencies’ policies and practices subject home health aides to “unconscionable levels of wage theft and make them extremely vulnerable to occupational injuries that often lead to permanent disability.” It was filed with the U.S. Departments of Justice, Labor, and Health and Human Services.

New York policy allows these workers to be paid for just 13 hours of each shift, under the assumption that they are able to sleep and eat during the other hours they spend in their patients’ homes. However, many aides have long said this practice was impossible, given their patients’ round-the-clock needs — and that they ended up missing out on both sleep and adequate pay. Despite these concerns, the state Departments of Labor and Health took action in 2018 to reinforce the 13-hour policy.

The federal complaint alleges that the state’s policies disproportionately affect people of color and immigrants, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which bans discrimination under any program or activity that receives federal funding. Much of the home care provided in New York is funded by Medicaid, a health program for people with low incomes that is paid for through a mix of state and federal dollars.

Home health aides in New York state — 81% of whom are people of color and 67% of whom are immigrants — have been fighting for years to change the rules around 24-hour shifts.

Getting federal agencies involved can provide “an external source of strong accountability that otherwise doesn’t exist within the state,” said Carmela Huang, an attorney with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, which filed the complaint on behalf of the labor groups.

Each federal agency decides whether it has jurisdiction over the issues raised in a Title VI complaint. If an agency accepts the complaint, it will then conduct an investigation and seek to resolve any violations that are found. The agency can take enforcement action if the violations are not resolved. Huang said enforcement could include the withdrawal of federal funding. But, she added, “obviously, that’s not what anybody wants.”

Huang filed the discrimination complaint on behalf of the Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association, the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops and the Flushing Workers’ Center, all of which are grassroots labor organizations based in New York City. The groups are part of the Ain’t I A Woman Campaign, which is ultimately seeking to abolish 24-hour home care shifts.