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August 9, 2019

Employers can still speak up about new overtime proposal

By: Brian Mittge   Comments: 0
Kirby Johnson, an instructional designer for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, speaks in opposition to a major proposed increase to the state's exempt overtime threshold, on Monday, July 15, at a hearing in the Department of Labor & Industries headquarters in Tumwater, the first in a series of hearings on this issue. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)

There’s still time to speak out on a new state proposal that would have a major impact on Washington employers by raising the overtime-exempt salary threshold to $79,000 a year.

The final public meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 15, from 9 a.m. to noon in Vancouver at the Clark College Columbia Tech Center.

Supporters and opponents both testified on the proposed rule last week in Spokane. Several businesses and nonprofits spoke against the measure, and some were concerned about fewer promotion opportunities and job cuts. Employers also spoke up at a hearing in the Tri-Cities.

In Tumwater, nonprofit leaders and salaried employees went on the record about the impacts that the dramatic increase to the state's salary threshold for overtime-exempt workers would have on them and their workplaces.

The proposal by the state Department of Labor & Industries would set the new exempt overtime threshold at $79,872 by the time it's fully implemented in 2026. That new "super minimum wage" is more than three times the current threshold and more than twice the amount that the Federal Department of Labor has proposed as the new standard. The new threshold would be permanently set at 2.5 times the minimum wage.

Rose Gundersen, co-founder and board director of Washington Trafficking Prevention, a nonprofit aimed at stopping sex trafficking, speaks in opposition to a major proposed increase to the state's exempt overtime threshold. Gundersen said that while she supports an increase to the exempt overtime threshold, she said the scope of the state's current proposal would hit nonprofits like hers too hard.

Employers and employees are being urged to attend these hearings and speak up about how setting the exempt overtime limit at nearly $80,000 will have major and unintended consequences for businesses and workers.

At the first hearing in Tumwater, that message came through loud and clear.

Rose Gundersen, co-founder and board director of Washington Trafficking Prevention, a nonprofit aimed at stopping sex trafficking, spoke in opposition to a major proposed increase to the state's exempt overtime threshold. Gundersen said that while she supports an increase to the exempt overtime threshold, she said the scope of the state's current proposal would hit nonprofits like hers too hard.

That's an issue shared by many nonprofits in Washington, according to the Journal of Business. Nonprofits such as the YMCA of the Inland Northwest and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Spokane County say their costs will increase and their ability to provide services will be negatively affected by the proposed rule.

Kirbie Johnson, an instructional designer at SEL, was a salaried worker who was bumped back down to hourly to comply with similar (but lower) exempt overtime limits set during the Obama administration. With hard work, Johnson eventually was able to earn a promotion and move back into a salaried position. "This was the best thing that could have happened in my life," Johnson said, noting the flexibility that a salaried position gives to spend time with children.

AWB members and other employers were part of a full house during a Seattle hearing on a major proposed exempt overtime rule change on July 16, 2019.

"I stand before you today because once again my career is being questioned as to whether or not it is a professional role. Often my work happens outside of the traditional working hours. Being a salaried professional gives me the autonomy to manage my career successfully," Johnson said. "To be transitioned back to an hourly rate tells me and other professionals like me that our careers are less important, that they are less professional, and it feels as if our autonomy is being questioned.''

That essentially converts the salary threshold to a new "super minimum wage," said Bob Battles, AWB government affairs director for workplace law.

"The proposal to make the salary threshold a 'super minimum wage' is unlawful, not supported by the rule-making record, incapable of being assessed through a valid cost benefit analysis, and poor public policy," Battles said in a new AWB issue brief on the L&I proposal.

Details on the hearing location and times are at the L&I website.

Contact Battles to learn more about the important issue.


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