Texas federal judge permanently kills Obama overtime pay expansion
Federal judge has killed President Obama's overtime pay extension for good. | Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

WASHINGTON—Former President Barack Obama’s overtime pay expansion is dead, for good.

The federal judge in rural Texas who halted the rule last November, just before it was to start, decided just before Labor Day that it never will, by making his nationwide court injunction against it permanent.

But in a footnote, U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant did leave one path open: He said the Trump administration Labor Department could submit its own rule, if it wanted to.

Mazzant’s ruling was the latest in a string of wins for right-wing state attorneys general, in this case 21 of them led by Nevada’s Alan Laxalt, and their business backers, led by the Chamber of Commerce and defeats for workers and their allies. Virtually all have come in Texas federal courts.

Had the overtime rule stayed in effect, federal overtime pay law would have covered up to 12.5 million workers – those earning up to $47,476 yearly – compared to four million now. The law mandates time-and-a-half pay for all hours worked over 40 per week. The current, and 12-year-old, mandated overtime pay limit is $23,660.

Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute, which supported the rule, called Mazzant’s decision “extreme and unsupportable.”

Not only that, but Trump told DOL to yank the new rule and call for a new round of comments on overtime, thus virtually inviting business to trash it, EPI said. That comment deadline is September 25. That means Trump “is trying to take away the ability of millions of hard working Americans to get overtime pay or more time with their families,” EPI added.

And Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, called Mazzant’s ruling “a disappointment to millions of workers who are forced to work long hours with no extra compensation, and a blow to Americans who care deeply about raising wages and lessening inequality.”

Mazzant’s ruling “strips hard-earned, long overdue overtime pay protections from millions of America’s workers forced to put in extra hours on the job — away from their families — with no extra pay at all.

“While the judge abandoned his earlier faulty conclusions that there’s no place at all for a salary test under the white-collar exemption” from overtime, “today’s decision is equally egregious. With no analysis of the record or relevant empirical data, Judge Mazzant substituted his own judgment for that of the Department of Labor,” she said.

A prior EPI analysis reported 6.4 million working women (50.9 percent of all beneficiaries) were eligible for Obama’s overtime pay expansion, along with 1.5 million African-Americans, two million Hispanics and 4.5 million millennials.  Almost 40 percent of farm workers would have benefited. So would three of every eight leisure and hospitality workers and one-third of construction workers.

Mazzant tossed them all out.

“The department has exceeded its authority and gone too far with the final (overtime) rule,” Mazzant wrote. Nothing in the Fair Labor Standards Act – the 1938 law enacting both the minimum wage and overtime pay “allows the department to make salary rather than an employee’s duties determinative of whether a ‘bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity’ employee should be exempt from overtime pay.” For the same reason, Mazzant also tossed out a section of Obama’s rule mandating automatic increases in the overtime pay cap, every three years, tied to inflation.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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