The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 05, 2019

Proposed overtime pay rule has Chamber's fingerprints all over it

By The Building Tradesman

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (PAI) – President Trump's Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s new overtime pay rule follows – to the letter – the recommendations of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a top labor law specialist says.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, pointed out the match as part of her group’s analysis and objections to DOL’s new overtime pay plan. 

“Secretary Acosta is once again siding with well-connected interests over working people. It certainly begs the question: Who does the Labor Department really work for?” Owens asked.

Other pro-worker organizations, including the AFL-CIO and the National Partnership for Women and Families, also objected to Acosta’s plan. Debra Ness, executive director of the partnership, said it would particularly hurt working women. Trump’s plan was “disgraceful,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka tweeted.

The current standard for a non-supervisory worker who toils 40 hours a week, requires the payment of overtime pay if that worker earns less than $23,600 per year. In 2014, President Obama directed the Labor Department to broaden OT eligibility to those who earn up to $47,476 per year - with automatic inflation adjustments upward. As one analyst put it, “business freaked out," and a federal judge put the brakes on OT payments under that higher earnings level. 

Last month, Trump's Labor Department re-started the process and proposed to raise the rate at which overtime is paid to those who earn less than $35,308 per year, with no automatic inflation increases.

“Overtime is earned and should not be politicized,” Trumka's more-formal statement said. “Lowering the threshold ignores the economic hardships faced by millions. This disappointing announcement is part of a growing list of policies from the Trump administration aimed at undermining the economic stability of America’s working people. The labor movement will continue fighting to change a rigged system that for decades has favored the mega-wealthy and powerful corporations.”

If the overtime payment income level had simply been adjusted upward for inflation since 1975, today the standard would be $55,000, the Economic Policy Institute said. The threshold is now so low it covers only 7 percent of all qualifying workers. 

The lawsuit that overturned the Obama Administration's standard was brought by 21 Republican-run states, led by Texas, plus the Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbies. The judge's injunction in 2017 said the Obama White House improperly looked at salaries instead of job descriptions when determining who was eligible for overtime pay.

A 2017 statement by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce after that ruling said the decision "is another victory for the effort to free our economy from the regulatory stranglehold of the last eight years. We have consistently said that the last administration went too far in its 2016 overtime rule...."

The Obama rule’s increase would have added OT protection for 4.3 million-4.9 million more workers. The Trump rule covers only 1.5 million more, DOL’s own analysis shows.

Congress’ ruling Republicans have also blocked an increase in the federal minimum wage, now $7.25 hourly, for a decade. Last November’s Democratic sweep, which increased the numbers of pro-worker governors and state legislators, prompted Owens to suggest workers turn to the states for overtime pay relief and implement their own rules.

That’s what workers have done in their campaign to raise the minimum wage and in the “Fight for $15 and a union” drive.