With survey showing support for overtime rules, where do GOP senators stand?

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.

The Hill: Republicans’ Hypocrisy on Minimum Wage

This week, Republicans came out with their official position on the minimum wage in their Republican Platform 2016: “Minimum wage is an issue that should be handled at the state and local level.”

That’s a silent but clear “no” to raising the disgracefully low federal minimum wage. But recognizing the popularity of the issue, they give a faux-nod to “state and local.” And therein lies the stunning hypocrisy.

It’d be one thing if Republican state legislatures were actually handling this issue responsibly. But too many not only remain staunchly opposed to raising the minimum wage at the state level; they’re also taking extreme measures to block cities and counties from raising their own local minimum wage.

That’s right — the party of local control is actively blocking democratically elected local officials from establishing higher local minimum wages in states such as Alabama and Missouri. Eighteen other states also prohibit local action on the minimum wage.

These preemptions of local actions have devastating consequences for people living in those cities.  Take, for example, Bridget Hughes, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. Bridget was a high-achieving high school student at Kansas City’s most elite public high school, and though she went on to college, she was unable to complete her education. She now finds herself working full-time at Wendy’s making a scant $8.75 per hour.

Bridget is married and her husband works as a gas station attendant. They are raising their four children as well as caring for a teenager whose mother is unable to care for her because of a drug addiction.

Not surprisingly, she and her husband find it nearly impossible to support and raise a family on the wages they earn. So Bridget has joined the Fight for $15 and is trying to make a better life for her family, particularly her children.

The duly elected City Council of Kansas City understands the plight of workers like Bridget and voted by a margin of 12-1 to raise the minimum wage within the city limits to $13 by 2020.

But the Missouri state legislature had other ideas. When they saw what Kansas City was doing to try to lift up its low-wage workers, the legislature, which by more than a two-to-one margin is populated with Republicans, passed a bill prohibiting localities from enacting their own minimum wage laws and other worker-friendly reforms such as paid sick leave.

Though Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the bill, the Republican-controlled state legislature overrode his veto, and the matter is now working its way through the court system.

Bridget and those struggling like her aren’t seeing the kind of help they need from their Congressional delegation either. Though Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is on record supporting a higher minimum wage, the last time Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) had the opportunity to raise the federal minimum wage in 2014, he was firmly in the “no” column.

So for now, Bridget and more than 250,000 Missourians like her who are working for starvation-level wages are out of luck.

This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the Democratic Party Platform, which lists as its very first item a call to raise the federal minimum wage to $15, to end the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, and to index the minimum wage to inflation so it can never stagnate again.

And Democratic-controlled legislatures and governors are walking the walk. California, New York and Washington, D.C. all recently raised their minimum wages to $15, and many other blue states have the nation’s highest minimum wages.

But the Grand Old Party of local control, even by the terms of its own platform, reveals the rank hypocrisy of its stated position with its actions around the country to block localities — those that supposedly know the needs of their citizens and their economies best of all — from raising the minimum wage for those who need it so desperately.

Their actions demonstrate that contrary to their platitudes about states and localities dealing with minimum wage, the low-wage workers in the 21 states with minimum wages currently stuck at the federal rate of $7.25 per hour, have virtually no realistic chance of seeing an increase anytime in the foreseeable or reasonable future.

The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 per hour since July 24, 2009. It’s long past time for a raise, and only one party seems willing to deliver on that promise.

Conti is federal advocacy coordinator with the National Employment Law Project Action Fund.

Read the original op-ed at The Hill.

Arizona Republic: Bills Show GOP Hypocrisy on Local Control

In an op-ed published Sunday in the Arizona Republic, NELP Action Fund Staff Attorney Laura Huizar takes that state’s Republican legislators to task for hypocrisy: touting the virtues of local control on the one hand, while repeatedly seeking to thwart local efforts to raise the minimum wage and strengthen employment benefits on the other.

“When it comes to the minimum wage and basic employment benefits, GOP legislators have made one thing clear: Workers will not win. Arizona legislators have taken that message to a new, unlawful extreme with two bills designed to chill local laws that help workers,” writes Huizar.

In fact, the GOP bills violate the state’s Voter Protection Act, under which the legislature (1) is prohibited from repealing a voter-approved ballot initiative, and (2) can amend a voter-approved initiative by a three-fourths vote but only if the change furthers the purpose of the initiative.

In 2006, Arizona voters spoke clearly when they approved a ballot initiative allowing cities to enact local minimum wage and benefits laws.

This is the third time that the state’s GOP lawmakers have tried to block local efforts to improve wages and benefits.

Read the op-ed at the Arizona Republic