UPDATE 1-Obama to extend wage law to cover 2 mln home care aides
* Announcement made by newly installed Labor Secretary Perez
* AFL-CIO chief praises expansion of labor protections
Sept 17 (Reuters) - The Obama administration said on Tuesday it will extend the protection of U.S. minimum wage and overtime law to almost 2 million home health workers who assist the elderly and disabled.
Home health aides, personal care aides and certified nursing assistants will be brought under the coverage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, effective in January 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor said in a statement.
"Today we are taking an important step toward guaranteeing that these professionals receive the wage protections they deserve while protecting the right of individuals to live at home," said Thomas Perez, who was sworn in on Sept. 4 as President Barack Obama's new labor secretary.
There are an estimated 1.9 million "direct care" workers in the United States. They are typically employed by home healthcare agencies, the department said. Their median pay in 2010 was $9.70 per hour, or about $20,000 per year.
The Labor Department first proposed revising the definition of "companionship services," which are exempt from federal minimum wage and overtime protections, to exclude home healthcare workers in December 2011.
Congressional Republicans and some patient care advocates questioned this change, saying it could result in home health workers getting fewer hours, or in making it more difficult for the elderly and disabled to stay in their homes.
The largest U.S. federation of labor unions on Tuesday praised the administration's move to make the fast-growing home healthcare industry comport with the Fair Labor Standards Act.
"Congress intended that these hard-working individuals, whose labor is often physically and emotionally demanding, have the protection of our nation's most basic labor standards," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement.