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Published: Monday, 7/9/2007

Glorified baby-sitters?

SOME of the greatest unsung heroes are the health-care workers who go into the homes of the elderly and infi rm to provide them basic care. Most labor long hours for little pay. Unfortunately, they got a collective slap in the face recently from the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that businesses are not required to pay them the federal minimum wage or overtime pay.

The decision again reveals a high court that is occasionally worker-unfriendly. Thanks to home-health care workers, thousands of people are able to stay out of institutions and maintain a sense of independence in familiar surroundings.

There is a remedy. Congress or the U.S. Labor Department can amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to improve the pay status of home-health care workers employed by companies. The law was passed in 1938 and has been amended once, in 1974. The Labor Department has looked at this issue three times in the last 15 years. Now it's time to act on it.

Justice Stephen Breyer described the exemption as reasonable, which might have been true in 1938, but not today. People are living longer, and it's an insult to consider their caregivers as baby sitters.

Any member of the administration or Congress who's reluctant to amend the Fair Labor law should consider that some day they may be dependent on a home health-care worker. Will they want to depend on one who does not make a living wage?

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