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Antonia Webb: It’s time to make overtime work for more workers

Mar 30, 2018

http://www.dispatch.com/opinion/20180330/antonia-webb-its-time-to-make-overtime-work-for-more-workers

March 30, 2018

Americans are working more than ever before, clocking in longer hours, taking less time off of work and waiting longer to retire. Yet many workers aren’t seeing their hard work reflected in their paychecks. Essentially, many people in our state and country are working much harder for less pay than previous generations.

Stagnant wages and rising costs play a major role in the familiar pinch many workers feel in their paychecks. Attacks on our unions also have undermined workers’ ability to fight for the wages and benefits they deserve.

But there are two other culprits largely flying under the radar: America’s eroding overtime protections, and the Republican officials who obstruct efforts to update our embarrassingly outdated overtime rules.

Overtime pay was a right once guaranteed to many workers. In 1980, 1 in every 3 full-time salaried workers had guaranteed-overtime protections. But today, fewer than 1 in every 10 full-time salaried workers has guaranteed overtime.

In an effort to restore overtime-pay protections and give millions of hardworking Americans the wages they’ve earned, the Obama-era U.S. Department of Labor strengthened an existing regulation requiring employers to pay workers overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours a week. The idea was based on the common-sense notion that workers should be compensated fairly for their hard work.

The proposal raised the overtime eligibility salary threshold from just over $23,600 a year to just under $47,500 a year, meaning that full-time salaried employees earning less than new threshold were now eligible for overtime pay. Under the Department of Labor’s proposal, an estimated 351,000 Ohio workers would have been newly eligible for overtime pay.

The Department of Labor’s proposal offered a sensible and much-needed update to an outdated rule that allowed employers to take advantage of workers and suppress workers’ wages. Employers could bump an employee’s salary to just above the old threshold to avoid paying overtime, leaving workers with nothing to show for any additional hours clocked outside of the traditional 40-hour work week.

This is made all the more egregious by the fact that the $23,600 threshold is poverty wages for a family of four.

Unfortunately, objections from special interests and Republican officials have all but halted desperately needed reform to America’s overtime rules. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine was among those who intervened to stop the Department of Labor proposal, denying hundreds of thousands of hardworking Ohioans a well-deserved raise in the process. Last fall, the Trump administration effectively abandoned the overtime proposal.

Updating our overtime rules to better serve hardworking Americans isn’t an issue of small dollars and cents. Without the overtime rule, Ohioans are losing more than $123,000 in wages every day — more than $45 million each year. Nationally, it’s costing workers $1.2 billion in wages each year.

Conversely, by strengthening overtime protections, we can provide workers and their families a significant raise.

Take for example an Ohio woman who, as a full-time salaried employee, earns $43,000 a year. Under the current overtime rules, she isn’t guaranteed the right to overtime pay. But under the overtime-reform proposal, this worker could have more than $150 extra in her paycheck each week if she works 5 hours of overtime a week. That’s over $8,000 more each year.

That kind of money can go a long way in giving families financial security. Workers can better save for retirement, help cover the costs of child care, pay off student loans or put a down payment toward a new home.

Thousands of Ohioans have written to the Trump administration urging those in Washington to expand overtime protections to more workers so that workers get paid for the hours they work. But so far, workers’ pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Workers deserve to be paid fairly for their work. It’s well past time to make overtime work for more workers.

Antonia Webb is director of For Ohio’s Future, a statewide coalition building progressive power through voter engagement and community organizing around education, social and racial justice, the environment and more.