Trump Labor Secretary took orders on OT from Chamber of Commerce
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta | Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

WASHINGTON—In yet another instance of GOP Trump administration kowtowing to corporate interests at the expense of the rest of us, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s new overtime pay rule follows – to the letter – the recommendations of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a top labor law specialist says.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, pointed out that match as part of her group’s analysis and objections to DOL’s new overtime pay plan.

“Secretary Acosta is once again siding with well-connected interests over working people. It certainly begs the question: Who does the Labor Department really work for?” Owens asked.

Other pro-worker organizations, including the AFL-CIO and the National Partnership for Women and Families, also objected to Acosta’s plan. Debra Ness, executive director of the partnership, said it would particularly hurt working women. Trump’s plan was “disgraceful,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka tweeted.

His tweet said Acosta’s overtime plan “is part of a growing list of policies from the Trump administration aimed at undermining the economic stability of America’s working people.”

The Trump DOL-Chamber of Commerce plan would raise the threshold below which a salaried worker must be paid overtime – time-and-a-half — for toiling more than 40 hours a week, to $35,308. It’s been $23,660 since 2005.

Neither the current overtime pay rule nor the new Trump DOL-Chamber of Commerce one, which is out for comment for 60 days, would index the threshold to future inflation. The threshold is now so low it covers only 7 percent of all qualifying workers.

The Democratic Obama administration decided to double the salary threshold for overtime pay eligibility to $47,476 and index it to future inflation. Some one-third of qualifying workers would have been covered. As one analyst put it, “business freaked out.”

So 21 Republican-run states, led by Texas, plus the Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbies, successfully sued to overturn Obama’s overtime pay rule. They chose a federal court in rural Texas – due to its right-wing judges – to stop the rule and won a nationwide injunction against it.

The current rule also has so many exemptions that even newspaper “editorial assistants” are classified as exempt from overtime pay as “professionals,” one of the loopholes in overtime pay eligibility. “Editorial assistants” have the same functions as copy boys and copy girls did before: Go-fers. More than 100,000 workers asked DOL to adopt Obama’s rule.

The Obama rule’s increase would have increased coverage to about one-third of eligible workers, adding protection for 4.3 million-4.9 million more. The Trump rule covers only 1.5 million more, DOL’s own analysis shows.

“The long-overdue rule would have helped to restore fairness to our workplaces and made a significant difference for working women, whose wages support their families and contribute to our economy,” Ness said.

The Obama overtime pay rule is one of a series of pro-worker mandates the GOP Trump administration has trashed, rolled back, or both, since it took office. Others include job safety and health rules, the DOL rule ordering pension advisers to put clients’ interests first, not their own, and various protections for working women.

And what Trump hasn’t trashed, the GOP-run states, led by Texas, and the corporate class have gone to court to stop. But last November’s Democratic sweep, which increased the numbers of pro-worker governors and state legislators, prompted Owens to suggest workers turn to the states for overtime pay relief.

That’s what workers have done in their campaign to raise the minimum wage and in the “Fight for $15 and a union” drive. Congress’ ruling Republicans have blocked an increase in the federal minimum, now $7.25 hourly, for a decade, too.

Disgusted states and cities – even deep-red states such as Arkansas — got tired of waiting and raised their minimums, often via voter referendums. There, two-thirds of voters approved a hike to $9.25, effective this past Jan. 1, and raises thereafter.

“We urge state leaders to step in to protect workers from the Trump overtime rollback,” Owens said. “Already, California and New York are phasing in higher overtime salary thresholds under state law. Pennsylvania and Washington State are in the process of following them, and similar proposals have been introduced in more states. Governors and legislatures should follow their lead and lock in overtime protections at the state level.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.