Wednesday July 06, 2022

24-hour shifts

February 08, 2021

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.

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.

Excerpted: ‘Should We Not Stop the 24-Hour Shifts if There Are Workers Who Like It?’