Cath Kestler, resident of Silver Creek and lifelong Democrat, shares her bi-weekly Dunkirk Observer Today column.
The moral argument for overtime reform is straightforward: When Americans work extra hours, they should earn the extra dollars. But the economic case is equally strong.
Modernizing overtime rules would help the middle-class rebuild our economy in three ways: First, workers would have extra money and spend it; second, firms would have an incentive to hire new workers; and third, it would reduce long workweeks, which drain our future human capital, the key ingredient for future economic growth.
Republicans in Congress are showing their true colors and plotting to block a raise for nearly 12.5 million Americans.
In a victory for the tens of thousands of citizens who encouraged President Obama to act fast, the administration recently announced modernizing the overtime rules. The new rules will crack down on the worst abusers by companies trying to avoid rewarding hard work, and means that millions of Americans will now be owed overtime pay.
The overtime reform could be one of the most impactful achievements of the Obama era, so it’s no surprise Republicans are already vowing to block the new rules. We need to make sure Democrats hold the line and prevent Republicans from sabotaging a raise for working Americans.
In 1975, 65 percent of salaried employees received overtime pay if they worked over 40 hours per week. Until the recent reforms, that number was less than 11 percent. Since 2004, salaried employees were eligible for time-and-a-half-overtime pay if they made less than $23,660, below the poverty level for a family of four. Under the new rules, the threshold is $47,476.
The new rules also crack down on businesses that use massive loopholes to pay far less than the minimum wage. Today, some fast-food companies pay employees the equivalent of a 40-hour-week at minimum wage—but force them to work 60 or more hours per week, spending 95 percent of their time at the cash register or sweeping the floors, all while labeling them “managers” to deny time-and-a-half pay. Lynn Fyock MacClean knows how this works….
It adds up to a raise for nearly 12.5 million workers and an economic boost for all of us from putting more money in the pockets of everyday Americans. But that won’t stop Republicans from trying to kill the reform. Because the administration listened to us and acted fast, Republicans don’t have the time to stall the bill in Congress. Their best hope is to put language blocking the changes in a must-pass spending bill. That means if Democrats stay united, Republicans plots to block the overtime raise will fail.
Despite Republican complaints, President Obama has the authority to update the overtime threshold just as Bush administration did in 2004. The real injustice is that if the overtime level had simply risen with inflation, it would be nearly $52,000 today. In fact, Rep. Mark Takano, other progressive champions in the House long called for raising the threshold to $69,000, so it would again cover 65 percent of the salaried employees. By comparison, the administrations modest reform sets the level at only $47,476, far lower than it should be, and nearly $3,000 lower that the administration’s own draft proposal from 2015.
More than 60,000 of us told the Labor Department to stand strong on bold new reforms.
In conclusion, the middle-class is the engine of the U.S. economic growth. It buys goods and services, starts the companies from which shareholders profit, and supports the political institutions that create efficient markets. But after 30 years of working harder and longer, middle-class workers have not gotten that boost. A strong overtime rule could be just the boost that the middle-class and our economy need.
Democrats need to stay united. Pick up the phone, write an email, or tweet your leaders to know we are counting on them and we will stand behind them if they hold the line. We all know how Rep. Tom Reed will vote.
Tell Democratic leaders: Don’t let Republicans block a raise for Americans.