By Kelly Ross, AFL-CIO
In a shocking and wrongly-decided opinion, a U.S. district court judge in the Eastern District of Texas has taken away overtime protection from millions of American workers.
Yesterday, Judge Amos Mazzant issued an injunction to stop the Barack Obama administration’s update of federal overtime eligibility rules, which was scheduled to take effect on December 1, 2016.
The updated rule is designed to restore overtime protections for an estimated 4.2 million workers, while making it harder for employers to deny overtime to another 8.9 million workers who are already overtime-eligible.
Equally shocking was Mazzant’s reasoning. He argued that the Labor Department does not have legal authority to set a minimum salary threshold below which workers are guaranteed overtime protection. The administration’s new rules would raise the overtime salary threshold from $23,660 to $47,476.
This is an extreme decision that ignores 78 years of precedent. The Labor Department has been exercising its authority to apply a minimum salary threshold since 1938. It has increased the threshold seven times, most recently in 2004 under President George W. Bush. Congress has amended the overtime law several times and never objected to the minimum salary threshold, and no court had previously ruled that the salary threshold violated congressional intent.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka tweeted:
The labor movement is not alone in denouncing this extreme decision and will continue to fight for overtime protections.
The Labor Department issued this statement:
We strongly disagree with the decision by the court, which has the effect of delaying a fair day’s pay for a long day’s work for millions of hardworking Americans. The department’s overtime rule is the result of a comprehensive, inclusive rule-making process, and we remain confident in the legality of all aspects of the rule. We are currently considering all of our legal options.
The Economic Policy Institute said this in its statement:
This is an extreme and unsupportable decision and is a clear overreach by the court. For 78 years the Department of Labor has used salary as well as duties to determine overtime eligibility. Congress has amended the Fair Labor Standards Act many times and has never objected to the salary test. The law is clear on this. The District Court’s ruling is wrong.
The National Employment Law Project said this in its statement:
Supporters of the rule are considering a range of legal strategies, and it’s premature to speculate about the course they’ll pursue if an appeal is filed. We believe the judge’s analysis and decision are deeply flawed and should be reversed on appeal.
The Center for American Progress said this in its statement:
Today’s decision from the Eastern District of Texas represents a major setback for the country’s workers. By siding with the big business lobby and granting an injunction against the Department of Labor’s plan to raise the overtime salary threshold from $23,660 to $47,476 a year, one judge has prevented millions of Americans, who are not currently guaranteed overtime protections, from getting a much needed raise.
The National Women’s Law Center issued this statement:
A single judge in Texas has ignored 78 years of legal precedent and taken money out of the pockets of millions of working people across the country by blocking the long overdue update of the overtime rule. These workers, the majority of whom are women, earn modest salaries, work long hours and have just been told that they will still be denied fair pay… The National Women’s Law Center calls on the incoming Administration to affirm that it will fight to raise the wages of working people by vigorously defending the overtime rule.
Andrew Stettner of the Century Foundation said this in his blog post:
The main intended beneficiaries of the rule were lower-middle-class workers earning between the old and new thresholds. In one of the signature moves of the pre-implementation period, Walmart raised the wages of its managers above the new threshold. This group of workers includes a diverse set of working-class workers, including a big slice of the white working class workers without a college degree who voted for Donald Trump in record numbers. Workers with only a high school degree make up 25% of the potential salaried beneficiaries of the new rules, but only 15% of the total workforce. The new overtime rule was one of the most reliable levers available to policy makers who want to take action on the stagnant wages of those earning above the minimum wage.