OPED: Employers must stop overworking, underpaying workers

Tribune News Service

Question:  “Should Congress leave President Barack Obama's new overtime pay rules intact?”

This is pretty simple. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, among many other significant and now standard worker protections, laid out the rules for overtime pay.

Union workers rally outside Macy's flagship store, Thursday, June 2, 2016, in New York, ahead of a June 15 contract deadline. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

This ended the horrendous practices of employers who forced workers to stay on jobs that deprived them of wages, time with their families and created exhaustion without much choice short of termination.

One of the key components of that law is the definitions by which workers are eligible for overtime pay and protections.

These definitions, which include such criteria as types of work done and salary considerations were meant to protect and reward lower-wage workers in the late 1930s while exempting higher-wage workers.

The huge jump in inflation over the last 78 years makes it clear the overtime rule needs an update to better reflect today's workplace realities.

In May, President Barack Obama and the Department of Labor announced that they would be making changes to the rules governing overtime pay.

Big business lobbyists and their friends in Congress, however, are trying to block this rule from taking effect, and the House Education and Workforce Committee already has held a hearing tilted toward opposition to the rule.

It is estimated that millions of low- and middle-income Americans will benefit from these changes, should they take effect in December.

The updated regulations increase the salary threshold a worker must be paid before employers can consider them exempt from overtime pay — raising it from $23,660 per year to $47,476 per year.

This new rule would also automatically update the salary threshold every three years for inflation and provides clearer definitions for workers and employers to determine who is covered.

In addition to extending overtime protections to millions of workers previously exempted, these changes will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and reduce excessive hours of unpaid work by underpaid employees, while increasing salaries for employees earning near the new salary threshold.

Women and people of color, who are more likely to hold lower-paying jobs and are far too often required to work extra hours without compensation also, will be treated much better under these new rules.

Opponents of the new rule have seized on the perceived impact these new rules will have on nonprofit organizations.

It is true that many nonprofits run on very tight budgets and salaries for employees at these important institutions can and often do fall into the range impacted by the rule.

As the director of a nonprofit myself, however, I feel the impact will be minimal compared to the benefits.

While some in the nonprofit sector may have to make some thoughtful adjustments to their operations, the opportunity to positively change the lives of so many of the people that are served by nonprofits greatly outweighs the challenges such organizations will face.

Many nonprofits, including those that provide human services or advocate for expanded workers' rights and economic justice, will see this rule more as an opportunity to improve the economic conditions and lives of the people we serve than a burden.

Certainly, our workers and their families that may be impacted by this rule also deserve greater economic security.

York economic leaders preparing for new overtime threshold

As I said at the beginning, this is actually pretty simple. People who are asked or even required to work hours above and beyond 40 hours per week should be entitled to fair compensation, should have a greater say in their schedules to account for extra work and the demands of home life.

The unpredictable work schedules and the outdated rules governing the overtime pay system must be changed. Congress should stop its posturing on behalf of big business and stand up for working Americans in support of these new rules.

Don Kusler is the executive director of Americans for Democratic Action (www.adaction.org), a progressive advocacy organization. He is addressing the question:  “Should Congress leave President Barack Obama's new overtime pay rules intact?”