Wyden, Merkley push to extend overtime pay for millions

Wyden, Merkley push to extend overtime pay for millions

Would require OT for salaried workers making up to $50,440 a year

WASHINGTON -- Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., along with Al Franken, D-Minn., Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., led the charge Monday to extend overtime pay to millions of Americans working long hours without fair pay.

Last year, the Department of Labor proposed an expansion to overtime pay protections that could benefit 5 million Americans, including 50,000 Oregonians.

The proposal would bring overtime pay to salaried workers making up to approximately $50,440. Currently, workers making only $23,660 or less qualify for overtime, and the Democrat lawmakers that threshold hasn’t been meaningfully updated since the 1970s. 

In a letter to Labor Secretary Tom Perez, the senators called on the agency to move quickly to finalize the overtime pay proposal, adding that while the cost of education, childcare, and retirement have risen, wages have remained virtually unchanged.

“As our economy continues to recover from the Great Recession, we, as a country, need to work on ways to help our economy grow from the middle out, not the top down,” the senators wrote. “But today, despite longer working hours and higher productivity, workers' wages have remained virtually unchanged. Millions of people are working harder than ever without basic overtime protections. We applaud the Department of Labor's move to update the overtime pay threshold, and we are writing to request that you quickly finalize the rule to ensure millions of workers are paid fairly for the hours they work.”

You can read a copy below. The letter was also signed by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Jack Reed, D-R.I., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Martin Heinrich, D-N. M., Tom Udall, D-N. M., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Robert P. Casey, Jr., D-Pa., Chris Coons, D-Del., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. 

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February 29, 2016

The Honorable Thomas E. Perez

Secretary

U.S. Department of Labor

Dear Secretary Perez: 

As our economy continues to recover from the Great Recession, we, as a country, need to work on ways to help our economy grow from the middle out, not the top down. But today, despite longer working hours and higher productivity, workers’ wages have remained virtually unchanged. Millions of people are working harder than ever without basic overtime protections. We applaud the Department of Labor’s move to update the overtime pay threshold, and we are writing to request that you quickly finalize the rule to ensure millions of workers are paid fairly for the hours they work. 

Overtime protections were first passed as a way to protect workers from exploitive working hours, but these protections no longer reach many of the workers they were intended to help. In 1975, overtime protections covered nearly 62 percent of full-time salaried workers—a stark contrast from just 8 percent of full-time salaried workers eligible today. This is especially concerning as those who currently qualify for overtime pay make $23,660 a year or less—an income beneath the federal poverty level for a family of four.

By failing to keep pace with the current economy, overtime pay protections have significantly weakened over the last several decades. Raising the overtime pay threshold to $50,440, as proposed, could restore protections to more than five million full-time salaried workers, creating $1.4 billion in wages in the first year alone. As the costs of education, childcare, and retirement have steadily risen, Americans need these protections so that they can build a better future for themselves and their families. We respectfully request that you issue a final rule as soon as possible. 

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,