Worker advocates urge Labor Dept. to reverse course, restore Obama-era overtime rule

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.

The Labor Department official chairing the two-hour session in Washington, DC – after prior sessions in Atlanta, Seattle, Kansas City, Denver and Providence, RI – said the agency wouldn’t publish anything on overtime until March.

President Donald Trump ordered DOL to dump Obama’s rule, and a corporate lawsuit against the rule led GOP-named federal judge in deep-red rural Texas to stop it last year, nationwide.

Trump’s Labor Secretary, Alex Acosta, previously told senators he believes overtime should cover workers – those not covered by union contracts – who earn up to $32,000 yearly.

The Obama-era rule raised the current pay eligibility cap from $23,660 – set in 2005 – to $47,476 and tightened an “executive, administrative and professional” exemption that eliminated millions of workers from overtime pay eligibility.

Shierholz, Conti, Feldman and Maria Maisto of New Faculty Majority, which speaks for unorganized (non-union) adjunct professors, argued 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,” Shierholz, EPI’s policy director, said.

What’s worse, 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-era rule Trump dumped would have raised that share to one-third. 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,” Shierholz said.

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