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AG Letitia James blasts federal plan to kill overtime for 600,000 NY workers

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The U.S. Department of Labor has proposed a rule that would allow businesses to increase the number of workers who do not qualify for overtime pay. It would do this by lowering the salary level at which employees can be classified by a company as being in a job that is exempt from overtime.

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Letitia James. Photo by Peter Katz

New York Attorney General Letitia James, along with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, have led a group that includes attorneys general from Connecticut, California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington who submitted a 28-page document opposing a proposed rule which would change the Fair Labor Standards Act.

During an interview in White Plains on May 23, James told the Business Journal that more than 600,000 workers in New York state would lose overtime protection under the administration’s plan. The number of employees nationwide who would lose the right to be paid overtime is estimated at 8 million. Overtime protection would remain intact as in the past for certain job categories, including police, firefighters and paramedics.

“The efforts by this administration to roll back that rule is nothing more than an attempt to roll back all the progress that we’ve made in this nation,” James said.

In 2016, the Labor Department under the Obama administration adopted a rule raising to $913 a week, or $47,476 a year, the minimum salary a person has to receive in order to be classified as being exempt from overtime because his or her job entails executive, administrative or professional duties. Back in 2004, it had been set at $455, or $23,660 a year, and stayed there until the 2016 update.

There was a court challenge and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas put a hold on raising the exempt threshold. In 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District ordered a new rulemaking with a fresh look at the salary threshold. The Trump administration’sLabor Department proposes cutting the $913 weekly figure in the Obama DOL’s rule update to $679, or $35,308 a year.

“There is no evidence to support rollback of these rules. It is not reasoned and it’s not logical,” James said. “It is the fundamental responsibility of the U.S. Department of Labor to protect the workers of this country. This proposed rule is a complete abdication of that responsibility. New York stands with our fellow states in continuing to fight for employees and to enforce laws that hold employers liable for overtime violations.”

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said his department’s proposal “would bring common sense, consistency and higher wages to working Americans.”

He cast the proposed rule setting $679 as the weekly salary at which overtime protection would end as an increase from the 2004-established $455 weekly salary level, rather than a cut from the Obama administration’s $913 minimum weekly salary set in 2016. Acosta said the Trump administration’s proposal would bring overtime pay to 1 million additional workers, making no mention of the much larger number of workers who would have received overtime protection had the Obama administration’s rulemaking not been challenged.

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