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As long as I get mine

by Ron Holdraker
October 22, 2022

For decades there was a disturbing trend in the American society in general. After WWII the economic upswing from a burgeoning growth spurt and early changes in racial equity took foothold. Earlier the growth of unions placed an emphasis on pay and working conditions

I recall watching Harvest of Shame, a 1960 documentary presented by broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow on CBS that showed the plight of American migrant agricultural workers.

Over the proceeding decades, things improved slowly and slightly as migrant originations may have changed, but the core problems remained. Yes, some pay, living conditions, health care, education opportunities for children evolved, but it was a fight every inch of the way.

Still migrant workers, whether citizens, or not, were considered the low of the society low.

Some employers, like the agriculture sector became totally dependent on seasonal work forces. Crop/livestock prices depended on supply and demand, and the actual survival of both farmers and workers livelihoods. Large dairy operations thrived on a steady, year-round farm worker supply.

Still, farm workers were too often considered expendable, replaceable by those willing to work harder, cheaper and at a whim.

Perhaps it was the more liberal- minded politicians and voters that decided farm workers needed to be pulled up by their boot straps to better pay, living conditions and the rights of the common man/woman/child.

No, the agriculture industry did not want change. After all, it was their livings at stake if workers wanted to better themselves. Bottom line, it affected the bottom line.

But wait! Why just farm workers? What about home health aides, nursing home care workers fast food workers, factory assemblers, clerks, those without a real voice in working conditions and fairness?

Slowly,  wages increased in all categories, some by need to fill positions, others by the shame brought about media stories such as Harvest of Shame.

In a society built upon fairness (?) things need to progress, often at the ire of those whomust pay to play.

Last week the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) raised the minimum wage for home care aides to $17.00 per hour in New York City, Long Island, and Westchester, and $15.20 per hour for the remainder of New York State.

This follows an order by the Commissioner and State Budget Director raising the general minimum wage to $14.20 for counties outside of New York City, Westchester, and Long Island, beginning on December 31, 2022, leading to an additional $1.00 increase an hour for Home Care Aides in those locations.

Under Public Health Law § 3614-f, “home care aide” refers to a home health aide, personal care aide, home attendant or other licensed or unlicensed person whose primary responsibility includes the provision of in-home assistance with activities of daily living, instrumental activities of daily living or health-related tasks; provided, however, that home care aide does not include any individual (i) working on a casual basis, or (ii) who is a relative through blood, marriage or adoption of: (1) the employer; or (2) the person for whom the worker is delivering services, under a program funded or administered by federal, state or local government.

Basically all the good and nasty stuff that family and relatives want no part of, or cannot provide.

This comes after studies have shown that the vast majority of home care aides are either migrant, foreign, or workers willing to accept the possible, terrible tasks at hand.

Home care aides may be owed extra pay in addition to minimum wage rates for:

Overtime - Home care aides must be paid 1½ times their regular rate of pay for weekly hours over 40 (or 44 for residential employees).

Call-in pay - If home care aides go to work as scheduled and their employer sends them home early, they may be entitled to extra hours of pay at the minimum wage rate for that day.

Spread of hours - If home care aides’ workdays last longer than ten hours, they may be entitled to extra daily pay. The daily rate is equal to one hour of pay at the minimum wage rate.

Uniform maintenance - If home care aides clean their own uniform, they may be entitled to additional weekly pay.

Let’s jump back to agricultural workers.

Republican (including local politicians) howled at changes in the state laws regarding the description of “overtime” pay. They cite the financial impact upon farms and the dire impact upon the agriculture industry.

The fast food and restaurant industries also quaked when it came their turn for higher wages. Some professions, such as in the hair cutting and waiter/waitress business still pay minimum wages, having the participants count on ‘tips’ to make a living liveable.

This whole problem of a living wage is, of course, complicated by recent inflation, interest rate increases. The concept of “As long as I get mine” is too persuasive for some, and for voters willing to maintain the status quo.

The problem is exacerbated by foreign imports and costs of export competition. Basically there is no clear answer to the problems of pay, hours and working conditions.

Me, I live by the policy that if I don’t want to do it, I’ll pay someone else to perform the task. I do not want to pick crops, milk cows, clean up and feed the elderly for those unable to perform daily life tasks. I refuse do, or learn the unpleasant, therefore I pay those willing to do so. No amount of slavery, subjugation, or stifling caste system is justifiable.

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