President Tim Burga’s Op-Ed as it appeared in The Toledo Blade
Federal law that governs overtime, enacted in 1938, sets an income threshold below which salaried workers are guaranteed overtime pay. Although that threshold initially was adjusted for inflation every few years, it has not kept pace with inflation since 1975.
This failure to update the overtime salary threshold properly has left too many workers without pay protections, and they and their families have suffered for it. The current salary threshold is $23,660 a year. Workers who earn a salary even slightly above that figure are often denied overtime pay, despite any extra time they put in on the job.
This is wrong, and workers are long overdue for an adjustment — a big one. These workers include salaried employees such as secretaries, low-level managers, social workers, bookkeepers, dispatchers, and sales and marketing assistants.
The U.S. Department of Labor is expected to announce a new proposal soon on the overtime threshold. Our country and our economy will benefit from this move, especially if President Obama recognizes it as a real opportunity to stem the growing gulf between rich and poor Americans.
A family of four people who live on an annual salary of $23,660 is living in poverty. That should not be the case, especially for someone who works overtime hours.
Income inequality in this nation has grown to epidemic proportions. Wages have dropped or stagnated for most Americans, while the wealthiest among us are doing better than ever before. The social and economic ramifications of this inequality contribute to some of the most nagging problems we face as a nation.
If the overtime salary threshold were properly adjusted for inflation, it would be set at $51,168 a year. More than 6.1 million workers would be below the threshold at this level, and thus automatically protected by overtime law. Setting the adjustment any lower would unnecessarily exclude millions of these workers from getting the overtime protections they need to get ahead.
This is a quick way we can begin to address inequalities and get about the business of addressing the problems and challenges before us. Big problems such as income inequality demand big solutions.
It has been 40 years since workers have gotten the adjustment they deserve. On this chance to move the dial, let’s pay it forward.
Tim Burga is president of the Ohio AFL-CIO.