Supreme Court urged to halt new pay rules for home aides

In a last ditch effort, providers of home health care are urging the nation's highest court to intervene before federal overtime and minimum wage rules go into effect for roughly 2 million workers.

In an emergency application to Chief Justice John Roberts, three industry trade groups asked for a stay of a U.S. Department of Labor rule slated to take effect in two weeks, saying it threatens "irreparable harm to the operations of home care providers and millions of elderly and disabled individuals, many of whom will lose access to vitally needed home care services as a result."

The petition, filed late last week, is the latest and possibly final chapter in a long-running battle between companies that provide at-home services to the elderly and disabled and those employed in the fastest-growing occupation in the U.S. With 10,000 boomers turning 65 each day, the government projects a 48 percent hike in employment of home health aides from 2012 to 2022.

Home health care companies argue that overtime requirements would make home care financially unfeasible for many elderly Americans, and even reduce the take-home pay of caregivers if companies opt to not send workers out for shifts that exceed eight hours.

Home care is already among the lowest-paid occupations. In 2012 (the latest year for which data is available,) the median annual wage for the country's so-called direct care workers was about $10 an hour, or less than $21,000 per year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Since 1974, federal law has exempted home care workers hired through third-party staffing agencies from wage and overtime requirements. Four years ago, the White House said it was getting rid of the exemption as part of an effort to go around Congress and help low-wage workers through executive action.

A federal judge derailed the Department of Labor's new rule earlier this year, finding it had overstepped its authority. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in August upended the prior decision, saying the Labor Department has the power to interpret the law to change the exemption.

The $84 billion industry is only expected to expand in the midst of a large shift from caring for the elderly in their homes rather than in nursing homes, which labor advocates argue requires medical care and assistance that surpasses the "companionship" services envisioned in 1974.