Labor Department weighs in on overtime dispute

Labor Department weighs in on overtime dispute
© Keren Carrion

The Trump administration is defending its right to set salary limits on who qualifies for overtime pay but is not defending a previous Obama administration rule blocked by a Texas judge in November. 

In briefs filed Friday, the Department of Labor asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the agency's legal authority to set a salary threshold for overtime pay eligibility, but not to rule on the validity of the specific salary threshold created by former President Obama's rule.

Nevada, Texas and 19 other states challenging the rule, which was set to take effect in December last year, claim it would raise the standard for overtime pay too quickly.

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The rule requires employers to pay overtime to most salaried workers who earn less than $47,476 annually, roughly $913 per week. The previous threshold was $23,660.

The Labor Department said it “intends to revisit” the threshold through a new rulemaking but that it was putting this off because of the legal challenge. 

“In light of this litigation contesting the department’s authority to establish any salary level test, the department has decided not to proceed immediately with issuance of a notice of proposed rulemaking to address the appropriate salary level,” the agency said in its brief.

“Instead, the department soon will publish a request for information seeking public input on several questions that will aid in the development of a proposal.”

Celine McNicholas, a labor counsel at the Economic Policy Institute, said the administration is defending the agency’s authority to establish an overtime threshold in order to issue a new rule that hurts working Americans. 

“By issuing this Request for Information and not defending the updated threshold, the Trump administration is working to roll back the hard earned rights of working people,” she said. “It is yet another example of President Trump’s siding with big businesses and corporate lobbyists over working people that the Trump [Labor Department] is working to undo a rule that simply allows members of the middle class who work hard to be paid what they are worth.”

Industry groups, however, were quick to praise the agency. 

“It's great to see a Department of Labor finally taking the time to fully evaluate the impact its regulations will have on businesses,” Angelo Amador, executive director of the Restaurant Law Center, said in a statement on behalf of the National Restaurant Association.

“[Labor] Secretary [Alexander] Acosta has once again proven he is a thoughtful leader who will work in the best interest of the American worker.”