Thursday, June 29, 2006

Universal Overtime Pay: Pro-Family Labor Legislation Whose Time Has Come

Time was that only an elite few didn't get paid time and a half after forty hours. Executives and professionals were salaried and didn't get paid overtime, but fifty or sixty years ago, those groups still constituted a small elite.

Nowadays, though, many millions of American workers are excluded from overtime pay, and the GOP would of course like to strip those protections from even more of us.

The Dems have been strictly playing defense on this one in recent years. Why not use this issue to go on the attack? Why not fight for overtime pay for practically everyone? I think it would be a big winner for two reasons: money, and family values.

The money issue is pretty simple: it would be like the minimum wage hike, only for the rest of us. There are tens of millions of Americans who are excluded from overtime pay because they are professional, administrative, or supervisory workers.

Practically all the non-secretarial denizens of Cubicle World are already professionals, and there are more of us all the time. We aren't any sort of elite anymore; we're just the line workers in the knowledge economy. But the Labor Department has changed the rules so that even a lot of non-degreed folks are 'professionals' under the regs. And many blue-collar workers are now exempt 'supervisors' even though they work side-by-side with those they supervise.

Well, nuts to that: it's time to give everyone a raise. No more free overtime!

What I suggest as part of a Dem agenda is this: mandatory time-and-a-half for everyone earning under some fairly high threshold, like $75,000. Exemptions only for part owners of a closely-held company, and teachers who get a couple months off every summer.

AND under my proposal, those making between $75,000 and $300,000 would get paid the OT rate of someone earning a $75,000 base salary. So you wouldn't lose your OT pay when you got a raise from $74,999 to $75,001. The value of that OT pay to you would gradually diminish as your base salary climbed into six figures, but it would still be there. Someone with a base salary of $112,500 would effectively get paid the same for overtime hours as for regular hours; someone making $225,000, half as much for overtime as for regular time. But there would be a cost to the employer to keep almost any worker working late.

And that's where the 'family values' part comes in: if an employee's overtime isn't a free resource, employers won't use it nearly as often. And this will make it a lot easier for working parents to juggle work and home, because work won't arbitrarily expand into evening and weekend hours, now that those hours aren't free. Most households with children don't have a stay-at-home parent, and if we're to consider child-rearing important in this country, then we must insist that employers not have the right to pull parents away from their children without even having to pay for the privilege.

So this would be good for workers' incomes, and it would be good for families. What's not to like? I think the Dems should run on this issue this fall, as a companion piece to a minimum-wage hike.

The min-wage hike and universal overtime: something for the working poor, and something for the rest of us, too.


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