The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 05, 2018

Report stings Schuette for suing to deny OT money for Michigan

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

Through their words, votes and actions, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer and Republican Bill Schuette have made clear their complete opposite stances on issues of importance to organized labor over the years.

And as far as organized labor is concerned, when it comes to making an endorsement, there's no contest: Whitmer has the support of nearly every organized labor group in the State of Michigan. Schuette, on the other hand, has the endorsement of the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors - Michigan.

"Gretchen is the only one of the two candidates who has a real world record of fighting for working families," said Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber. "Whether it was right-to-work, or cuts to education or attacks on the building trades, Gretchen has always had our backs - now we need to have hers."

While Whitmer has actively marched with trade unions and supported prevailing wage and fought right-to-work, Schuette has actively supported prevailing wage repeal and right-to-work, among other anti-labor initiatives. His latest hit against labor was highlighted in a Sept. 11 report released by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) Action Fund. Schuette was singled out by the report, which said as state attorney general, he made the choice to join a lawsuit that halted federal rules that could have expanded overtime pay to as many as 271,000 Michigan workers.  Of those workers, most affected would be about 193,000 workers who regularly toiled more than 40 hours a week.

"As a result,"  the report said, "this year and every year Michigan workers are losing $37 million in overtime raises. That’s $37 million in badly needed higher pay that workers across the state are losing ever year because of the lawsuit brought by Schuette to block the overtime raise."

Here's the background, according to NELP. Back in 1975, the overtime salary threshold for that exemption was the equivalent of $61,200 a year, meaning non-management and professional workers who earned less than that were eligible for time-and-a-half pay after working 40 hours a week. That salary threshold dropped to $23,660 in 2004, eliminating OT opportunities for millions of U.S. workers. Then in 2016, President Obama'a U.S. Department of Labor ordered an update to the rule, restoring overtime pay protections for workers earning less than about $48,000 a year.

However, a federal lawsuit brought by a group of Republican state attorneys general blocked the higher overtime pay levels. "A group of 21 state attorneys general, including Michigan’s Bill Schuette, sued and blocked this middle-class pay raise for their own constituents," said NELP. The group pointed out that in other states, including Pennsylvania, Washington State, California and New York, governors and state legislatures "responded to the blocked federal overtime pay expansion by acting under state law to deliver this raise." Michigan's state government, dominated by Republican lawmakers, opted not to similarly change the state law to expand overtime pay.

According to the news service MIRS, after the ruling in 2016, Schuette's office released a statement that said he was pleased the judge "stopped the Obama Administration's overreach and attempted end run around Congress" and that "the proposed new rules would have been job-killing rules, which would have meant fewer jobs and smaller paychecks."

Job killing? Maybe not. "Despite the rollback of the overtime restoration by Schuette, employer surveys show that 50 percent or more of national companies, including major retailers, restaurant chains, and banks, have already adopted the higher, updated overtime standards and adjusted their pay scales," NELP said. "That shows that restoring overtime pay is economically realistic and would not entail a burdensome transition for businesses."

NELP is a nonprofit workers' rights group that researches policy for low-wage workers. The group said it "fights for policies to create good jobs, expand access to work, and strengthen protections and support for low-wage workers and the unemployed." NELP said it used data for its study from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as the Census Bureau.

"There has been a real cost to Michigan families because of Bill Schuette's actions," said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. "Hundreds of thousands of working people across every county in this state could have benefited from overtime expansion, but Bill Schuette decided to side with corporate interests instead." 

The Trump Administration's Department of Labor is rewriting the overtime rule, currently holding ongoing "listening sessions" in an effort to establish a new threshold. The Economic Policy Institute said the Labor Department is likely to issue a much more business-friendly rule "setting the threshold at a much lower level."