The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 19, 2018

Advocates urge expansion of OT pay rule

By The Building Tradesman

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI)—Millions of workers, most of them working women, would benefit if the Trump Labor Department reversed course and restores the larger and more comprehensive overtime pay eligibility rule former President Barack Obama’s DOL promulgated in 2016, worker advocates told department officials on Oct. 17.

But whether Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute, Judy Conti of the National Employment Law Project, Judy Feldman of the National Women’s Law Center and other pro-worker speakers had any impact at DOL’s sixth “listening session” on overtime is unlikely.

That’s because the Labor Department official chairing the 2-hour session in D.C. said the agency wouldn’t publish anything on overtime until March.

It’s also because Trump ordered DOL to dump Obama’s rule in the first place. And a corporate lawsuit against the rule led a GOP-named federal judge in deep-red rural Texas to stop it last year, nationwide, too. Trump’s Labor Secretary, Alex Acosta, previously told senators he believes overtime eligibility should cover workers – those not covered by union contracts – who earn up to $32,000 yearly.

Obama’s rule raised the current pay eligibility cap for OT eligibility from $23,660 – set in 2005 – to $47,476. He also expanded an “executive, administrative and professional” exemption, opening up millions of workers for overtime pay eligibility. 

That left Shierholz, Conti, Feldman and Maria Maisto of New Faculty Majority, which speaks for unorganized (non-union) adjunct professors, to argue for workers. So did a speaker from AARP, who noted older workers are the fastest-growing workforce segment and must often take jobs below their skills – until their bosses “promote” them to deny them overtime.

“Almost 75 percent of those who would have benefited” from Obama’s overtime pay rule change “have fallen through the cracks” since the Bush rule stayed unchanged, Shierholz, EPI’s policy director, said. “Look at DOL’s own analysis” in 2016, she urged. 

Indeed, inflation has eaten away so much at the overtime pay rule, that it now covers fewer than 10 percent of all workers, Shierholz noted. The Obama rule Trump dumped would have raised that share to about 33 percent. When DOL first started keeping records, in 1965, 60 percent of workers fell under that year’s overtime pay cap.

Every year the overtime pay threshold “is not indexed, it erodes the standard” – and the number of protected workers – “even more,” she added. And maintaining Obama’s overtime rule “would have been excellent” for workers “and an excellent use of government resources” by cutting down the lawsuits over the reach of the loophole.

The worker advocates followed a parade of corporate lobbyists who marched to DOL’s microphones. Some uttered vague platitudes about raising the overtime pay cap sometime in the future and without increases for inflation. And they didn’t suggest any numbers, either.

Conti told DOL one original purpose of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which established overtime pay for toiling more than 40 hours a week, was to encourage employers to hire more workers, rather than employ fewer workers and pay them overtime.

And forcing more workers to toil overtime, paid or unpaid, “takes them away from their families and their children and, studies show, endangers their health,” Conti added.