Cooperatives: A Form that Can Help Solve Workforce Issues

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September 23, 2016; New York Times

The past week or so has seen a number of articles acknowledge the ever-more-looming workforce issues of home health aides. This attention comes from a new report published by PHI, a nonprofit research group that has been tracking the workforce in this field for some years.

The report reiterates that this fast-expanding field, which has grown from 700,000 to more than 1.4 million over the past ten years, has wages low enough and hours insufficient enough to qualify at least a third of its workers for food stamps and other benefits. These workers are, by a large majority, women, and about 50 percent people of color. The annual turnover rate is estimated to be between 40 and 60 percent.

In 2013, the Labor Department finally awarded direct care workers minimum wage and overtime rights under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, from which they had been excluded since 1975. Despite opposition and court challenges from the home health industry, those changes have now been implemented, but the response is far from sufficient for a workforce that’s expected to be one of the fastest-growing over the next decade.

Among other responses, such as union organizing by SEIU and legislative action in the Bronx and Philadelphia, home health aides have formed worker-owned cooperatives. Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA), based in the Bronx, and Home Care Associates (HCA) of Philadelphia are both affiliates of PHI, which advocates on behalf of the workforce more generally. Both provide training and support, as well as employment at decent wages.

As we welcome in October as Co-op Month, it is worth considering where else cooperatives might work to recreate portions of our economy so that they are sustainable. This field seems more than ripe for such structures.—Ruth McCambridge