Seizing an opportunity to save money at the expense of low-income home care workers, the Brown administration announced that it would take advantage of a court ruling (pdf) striking down new federal labor rules to ditch a state overtime law that took effect January 1.
The ruling does not compel California officials to abandon the state’s new law; it just seems like a good idea. “In view of the fact the Federal requirements relating to overtime payments have been vacated by the court, California will retain the program structure that existed before the Department of Labor issued the rule,” California Department of Social Services’ Director Will Lightbourne said in a statement.
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, appointed by President George W. Bush, ruled that only Congress can make the changes the U.S. Department of Labor made. It would have potentially affected around 2 million home-care workers nationwide and more than 360,000 in California.
“Redefining a 40-year-old exemption out of existence may be satisfyingly efficient to the Department of Labor, but it strikes at the heart of the balance of power our Founding Fathers intended to rest in the hands of those who must face the electorate,” Judge Leon wrote.
That exemption lumps home-care workers into a category that includes babysitters and “companions.” The Labor Department thought it might update rules governing an industry that has changed radically and grown exponentially in four decades. Now, they can defer to the conservative Republican Congress.
Allison Padgett, spokeswoman for the United Domestic Workers of America, called the state’s decision “shameful.” She told the Los Angeles Times, “Our state's caregivers are often living at the poverty level, and they're just trying to make ends meet while trying to help some of our most vulnerable residents live with dignity.”
The new rule would have required workers to be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, and overtime for more than 40 hours of work in a week. The state will save $354.4 million annually by denying them that.
Officials know how much it will save because that’s how much lawmakers already put in the budget for this year in anticipation of the federal law taking effect. Now, it won’t be spent unless an appeal overturns the judge’s decision or California officials change their mind.