Greg Nash

A top labor official is pressuring the White House to dramatically increase the number of Americans who qualify for time-and-a-half overtime pay.
 
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said in an interview published Friday that he believed President Obama should take an executive action ensuring overtime pay for workers with an annual salary under $51,168.
 
That would represent more than doubling the current threshold, which provides time-and-a-half pay for workers making $23,660 per year or less.
 
“The spotlight is now on raising wages,” Trumka told The Washington Post. “Raising wages is the key unifying progressive value that ties all the pieces of economic and social justice together. We think the president has a great opportunity to show that he is behind that agenda by increasing the overtime regulations to a minimum threshold of $51,168. That’s the marker.”
 
Trumka adds his voice to a growing chorus of Democratic lawmakers and liberal policy groups calling Obama to move boldly on the forthcoming regulations, due out next month.
 
Obama ordered the Department of Labor to revise its overtime rules last summer, and due to inflation, the number of workers who qualify for time-and-a-half pay is at an all-time low. The minimum threshold has not been revised since 1975, when nearly two-thirds of salaried workers qualified for overtime pay.
 
“Unfortunately, today, millions of Americans aren’t getting the extra pay they deserve,” Obama said at the time. “That’s because an exception that was originally meant for high-paid, white-collar employees now covers workers earning as little as $23,660 a year. So if you’re making $23,000, typically, you’re not high in management. If your salary is even a dollar above the current threshold, you may not be guaranteed overtime. … And I think that’s wrong.”
 
Trumka’s proposed threshold would simply adjust for 40 years of inflation, and, according to the Economic Policy Institute, cover an additional 6.1 million workers.
 
But the White House may be aiming lower.
 
Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of EPI, told The Huffington Post earlier this month that he believed the White House was considering a far less ambitious increase, to an annual salary of $42,000 per year. That would cover roughly 35 percent of all salaried workers.
 
The president’s less ambitious approach may be influenced by concerns within the business community that a dramatic hike would prove too costly and strain budgets. But Trumka argued that business would complain about any increase, so Obama should go big.
 
“Why would you settle for a figure that excludes millions of people when they’re not going to support that, either?” Trumka said. “The president should go full throttle on restoring the 40-hour workweek and not dilute this opportunity for raising wages.”
 
Liberal members of the president’s own party have also encouraged Obama to act aggressively. A group of six Democratic senators, including Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren, wrote Obama last year to urge him to set the threshold at $54,000 per year. Such a move would cover roughly half of all salaried workers.
 
“These workers are not the highly-compensated executives and professionals to whom the statuary exemption was intended to apply,” the senators said in the letter. “They are struggling middle class workers who are too often overworked without any additional compensation.”

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