California unions and state Democrats are mounting a counterattack to the Trump administration’s attempt to roll back federal overtime pay protections.
At issue is an Obama era rule that doubled the overtime salary threshold, making 12.5 million workers who earn less than $47,476 annually newly eligible for overtime pay.
The U.S. Department of Labor moved Tuesday to take initial steps to dismantle the rule, which had been blocked by a court challenge. But new California legislation advancing in the Democratic-held state senate aims to enshrine the Obama administration’s overtime protections into state law.
Lawmakers are offering the bill “[t]o defend President Obama’s overtime salary threshold from, frankly, ongoing attacks at the federal level,” Mitch Seaman, legislative advocate with the California Labor Federation, one of the bill’s chief sponsors, said at a state committee meeting on Wednesday.
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Legislators in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maryland are taking similar action.
“With the Trump Administration and Republican Congress working to block the Obama administration’s middle class overtime pay raise, it’s crucial that California is fighting back by locking in the standard at the state level,” said Paul Sonn, general counsel of the National Employment Law Project, which is also sponsoring the bill.
The Obama administration rule raised the overtime annual salary threshold, $23,660, which had remained unchanged since 2004. The federal overtime rule benefited a greater share of Black and Hispanic salaried workers than white salaried workers, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis.
The rule change meant that workers who earn less than $47,476 a year were eligible for time-and-a-half pay when they worked more than 40 hours in a week.
“That level wasn’t just pulled out of the sky,” Seaman said of the new overtime threshold. “It was decided on as a compromise, to account for rural areas, to account for small employers, to account for lower wage regions of the country. It was set at the 40 percentile of the lowest wage census region of the country, which was the South.”
The federal overtime rule was set to go into effect in December 2016, but was blocked by a federal court in Texas. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) appealed the Texas ruling during the Obama administration. President Trump’s Department of Justice has asked the court to delay the case “to allow incoming leadership personnel adequate time to consider the issues.”
DOL on Tuesday made a formal request for information on the rule to the Office of Management and Budget, signaling it intended to nix the federal overtime rule. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta recently described the Obama era rule as a “shock to the system.”
California Assemblymember Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), the California bill’s author, said the legislation creates an important backstop against the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine pro-worker policies.
“All we’re saying is if someone makes $47,000 a year or less that they should be eligible for overtime,” Thurmond said.
The Assembly-passed bill cleared the state senate’s Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on Wednesday. Democrats control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office.
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