February 2012 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

February 2012

A Day in the Life a Home Care Aide

Vicky Talag (not pictured) is a 52-year-old home care who spends at least 10 hours looking after her 82-year-old client on a typical work day. Recently, Women’s eNews correspondent Amy Lieberman shadowed Talag at work

“I’m supposed to work 10 hours a day, but I often wind up doing more than that,” Talag says. “But I need to act like I am taking care of my mother.”

Talag has so far received no overtime pay or raise in this position, after almost three years. She hesitates to bring up these issues with her employer, who has suffered a series of health setbacks.

“If she is happy with me it is up to her to increase my pay. I want to ask her, but it isn’t always the right time,” Talag says. “When I brought her home from the hospital, I couldn’t let her stay alone, so I stayed with her here. But I am stretching myself.”

One week at the end of December, Talag worked a 24-hour shift. The next day, she felt exhausted and broke down crying. Then she took the next day off. She rarely uses her sick or vacation days, but when she does, an independent geriatric care manager arranges a replacement.

Talag doesn’t earn overtime, in fact, she doesn’t get paid at all for the hours she works in excess of what her contract calls for. Yet she stays and works for free because she wants to do a good job and maintain good relations with her client.

She believes, incorrectly, that she would qualify for unemployment insurance if she lost her job because she pays her self-employment taxes.

New York passed a domestic workers Bill of Rights in 2010, legislation that has enabled domestic workers to recoup over half a million dollars in wages through the Labor Board, but Talag doesn’t know about the new law. She hasn’t had a raise since she took the job in 2009, but she says she doesn’t feel comfortable broaching the subject with her client because the old woman has experienced a number of health setbacks recently.

The work of home care aides is vital to their patients and to society at large. New York’s 200,000 domestic workers look after the young, the old, the sick, and the disabled, freeing their family members to earn a living outside the home. Home care aides enable their clients to live with independence and dignity in their own homes instead of costly institutions.

[Photo: Home care aide, illustration only, myfuture.com, Creative Commons.]