by Judy Conti, NELP Action
New Obama Administration regulations that ensure workers with salaries less than $47,476 a year are paid for overtime hours take effect Dec. 1, 2016. The Department of Labor estimates changes to the so-called “white-collar exemption” will entitle 4.2 million executive, professional and administrative employees to overtime when they work more than 40 hours in a week. The Economic Policy Institute estimates an additional 8 million workers, who are likely presently entitled to overtime but not receiving it, will finally start getting the pay they deserve.
Across the country, more than 12 million workers will either see more money in their paychecks or more free time for themselves and their families as employers spread work around. Where employers reassign work hours rather than pay time-and-a-half for overtime, part-time workers who want more hours will likely get them, and those who are unemployed will be able to apply for the new jobs that will be created by the redistribution of work.
This is good news for workers everywhere, and a boon for the middle class, which has eroded considerably in recent decades. For employers, it will amount to no more than one-tenth of 1 percent of payrolls in industries across the country. With costs to employers so small but the benefits for working families so great, why would any rational policymaker oppose these overtime changes?
Yet, that’s precisely what’s happening, with Congressional Republicans leading the charge to try to kill the regulation. A new poll shows they could pay a political price for their opposition.
The NELP Action Fund recently asked likely voters in seven battleground Senate states (Arizona, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) how they feel about the new overtime rules, and the results are staggering. With percentages ranging from 76-81%, voters in these states favor the new regulations. And these likely voters are prepared to vote to benefit their pocketbooks: By margins of well over 2-to-1, voters are less likely to vote for candidates who oppose the new overtime regulations. The results aren’t even close.
With such overwhelming public support for the new rules, why are Congressional Republicans trying to block these long-overdue regulations? Because employers have been getting a good deal under the current weak regulations, which allow them to get away with denying overtime pay to workers with salaries as low as $23,660 per year, a wage that falls below the poverty level for a family of four. CEOs and their cronies, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, don’t want to see a good thing go away.
Forty-four Senate Republicans, including John McCain of Arizona and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin are co-sponsoring a resolution that would block these regulations in their entirety AND would ban the Department of Labor from trying to update the regulations at all. (House Republicans have also offered riders to the Department of Labor’s Appropriations bill that would block the new regulation.)
Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), all of whom are up for re-election this year, have not signed onto this resolution, but neither have they offered any indication that they will support the new overtime regulations.
It is time for them to take a stand and buck the Republican party-line on the overtime regulations. Are these Senators on the side of the overwhelming majority of their constituents, who know that restoring vitality to the nation’s overtime law is of significant importance not only to their families, but also for building an economy that works for everyone? Or will these senators stand with the interests of big business, which wants the free ride to continue?
On a matter so crucial to middle class security and stability – to family incomes and family time – there’s no excuse for politicians of any ilk to duck the question of where they stand on overtime pay. Voters across America strongly support the new rules and deserve to know which side their leaders are on. It’s time officials and all others who haven’t yet taken a stance on the overtime regulations answer the question.
Judy Conti is Federal Advocacy Coordinator at the NELP Action Fund. This column was originally published on The Hill’s Congress Blog.