Despite its progressive branding, New York State is home to the notorious 24-hour workdays, in which home attendants—most of them immigrants and women of color—work 24-hour shifts taking care of seriously-ill seniors and people with disabilities with needs for around-the-clock care. These shifts have taken a toll on the workers’ health and on their family relations, while imposing safety risks to those they take care of, as such grueling overwork makes it impossible for workers to provide the best care. The insurance companies have benefited from the 24-hour workdays by paying workers only 13 hours of pay.
The call to end the 24-hour workdays has grown and State lawmakers are taking up the legislative effort to end the inhumane 24-hour shifts by making them into split shifts.
Many home agencies have been forcing 24-hour shifts on the workers, but disguise them as "choice."
But recently, some people have been raising skepticism about ending the 24-hour workdays. While defending the 24-hour workdays is morally impossible, they put the responsibility on workers, claiming that there are workers who want to work 24-hour shifts; therefore the government should not stop the workers from working 24-hour shifts. It is as if working long hours is a matter of choice.
For home attendants who work 24-hour shifts, this claim is a cruel joke. Many home agencies have been forcing 24-hour shifts on the workers, but disguise them as “choice.” But in reality, it’s choosing between 24-hour shifts and no work or little work. Mei Kum Chu, retired home attendant from Chinese-American Planning Council, said that after the training to become a home attendant there, “There was only 24-hour work. Many workers after the training refused the 24-hour shift so the agency would give it to the next person. The workers kept waiting for the agency to arrange non-24-hour work but they just kept waiting. Then we knew we had to work the 24-hour shifts.” Alvaro Ramirez, former home attendant of United Jewish Council, was fired when he tried to refuse 24-hour shifts: “I said no, I wasn’t going to work 24 hours. Then the home care agency said, ‘Alvaro, send in your resignation; you are out of the agency.’”
Countless stories from the home attendants show that the 24-hour workday can exist, not because the workers really want to “choose” it, but because the insurance companies and those pro-exploitation home care agencies want to maintain it for their profit.
Therefore, "choosing 24-hour shifts” is a false concept that they put out to confuse people and perpetuate this deplorable sweatshop practice. In the past, slave owners and those who profited off the institution of chattel slavery tried to create a narrative that slaves were happy and cared for in order to justify and maintain the most egregious form of human exploitation for profit. Slavery may have been legally abolished in the US but we are still haunted by its legacy. Under the guise of democracy and freedom, we are being sold a different false narrative: one that tries to convince us that an individual’s choice to consent to exploitative working conditions means the system is good and should remain. Under this narrative, one could even argue that minimum wage laws should not exist since millions of workers “choose” to have their wages stolen by unscrupulous bosses. False narratives like these serve the interest of profit-hoarding bosses and undermine working people’s fight for control of their time and lives.
Past and present shows us that we cannot allow these lies to perpetuate. Workers are organizing to abolish the legal 24-hour workdays because it shouldn‘t be about the individual’s right to choose how much to be exploited, but rather, how we can unify against the agenda of those who wish to maintain systems of exploitation that view all workers as an endless supply of disposable labor to be tossed aside once maximum profit has been extracted. Home attendants are on the frontlines of labor’s forgotten fight - the fight for control of our time. They are leading the charge, fighting for themselves and paving the way for a new labor movement.
We urge legislators to ignore the noise from insurance companies and home care agencies that profit from the 24-hour workdays, and stand with the workers to pass the legislation (A3145/S359) to change 24-hour shifts to split shifts.