Republicans are escalating the war against the middle class and President Obama’s plan to raise the wages of millions of workers. The Labor Department is expected to propose a rule that could almost double the overtime threshold from its current level of $23,660 to $52,000. The move would be the biggest federal intervention on wages in almost a decade and would extend time and a half-pay to millions of workers. The GOP is still repeating the same old debunked theories that increasing wages would kill jobs and hurt the economy in a desperate attempt to discredit the President’s plan.
The move to raise the overtime threshold had been a long time coming. Often times when a wage increase is discussed, the plight of the salaried worker is overlooked and much of the focus is put on raising the minimum hourly wage. Putting employees on salaries is a way for employers to legally get away with not paying overtime wages because a salaried worker only qualifies for time and a half if they earn less than $23,660; that is below the poverty line–$24,250– for a family of four.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, the salary threshold has only been raised eight times since the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 established rules for overtime pay and only once since 1975. In order for the threshold to be in line with inflation, it would have to be raised to $50,440; that is more than double what it is now. Simply making that change would raise the wages of roughly 10 million, or 12 percent, of American workers.
“The minimum wage they can’t do,” said Bill Samuel, director of legislative affairs for the AFL-CIO. “This is probably the most significant step they can take to raise wages for millions of workers.”
When Republicans heard that Obama wants to raise the threshold and help millions of hardworking Americans earn a living wage, they immediately leapt to the defense of corporate America and labelled him “job killer.” The House Education and the Workforce subcommittee said they will spend a large amount of time discussing how to best impoverish American workers in a June 10 hearing. One Republican, Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee said the rule “seems engineered to make it as unappealing as possible to be an employer creating jobs in this country”- the standard Republican response that has absolutely no basis in fact but every basis in economic fearmongering.
Republicans are not the only ones trying to use “job killing” rhetoric to kill the rule; business groups, such as The National Retail Federation, have warned that raising the threshold will cause businesses to lay-off higher paid earners and replace them will low-wage workers. Daniel Hamermesh, an economist at the University of Texas at Austin, calls the claims unfounded, because even if employers laid off workers, they’d still have to hire people to fill those positions. He said raising the threshold it is “an absolute no brainer” and the current rule is likely not even in line with the intent of the law.
Democrats and President Obama have been fighting for wage increases for all Americans for years. Even as prices and productivity have risen, wages have stayed stagnant. There is no way a worker– be they salaried or hourly– can earn a decent living in this country with wages at their current levels. Republicans have fought increased wages every step of the way, while at the same time cutting social programs that supplement the wages of millions of hardworking families.
While Democratic presidential candidates are already running on platforms to raise overtime pay, Republicans are doing what they do best and blaming Obama. Rick Tyler, a spokesperson for Ted Cruz, said,”Overtime? [Who’s] working overtime anymore since Obamacare? People are not even getting full-time,” in an email to Politico. The GOP will stop at nothing to make sure the profits of their corporate backers are kept steady and that the American worker remains poor and beaten down, ripe for exploitation by big business and receptive to their lies about the economic disaster that is Republican trickle down policies.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.