US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Current overtime pay laws are hardly working

By Caitlyn Schmid | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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Tomorrow (Thursday) President Barack Obama will address the Department of Labor (DOL) to ask for increased protection of a worker’s right to overtime pay.

Currently, salaried employees making more than $455 a week—or roughly $24,000 a year—are exempt from overtime pay, however the president will propose to raise that threshold. The new threshold will include more salaried workers who hold “managerial and executive positions” within companies such as fast food restaurants or convenience stores. The new proposal will affect millions of households in the United States and will work toward the president’s hope of closing the gap between the wealthy and the poor and eliminating income inequality.

Though some are hesitant toward the new proposal stating that it will potentially cause employers to cut back on the number of workers they employ, others have embraced the proposal and have even pushed to increase the new threshold to nearly $1,000 a week. According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based research group, this high threshold would raise the wages of 5 million employees during any given week.

Every workers deserves a just wage for the hard work he or she does every day. The dignity of workers and their rights is a topic that Kim Bobo, the executive director and founder of Interfaith Worker Justice, fights for. In an interview last year with U.S. Catholic Bobo said that withholding just wages for overtime is the biggest example of wage theft that employers are found guilty of.

According to Bobo, “Employers say, ‘I don’t pay overtime. If you want to get overtime, find another job.’ In this economy, some employers will even say, ‘We can’t pay more than 40 hours a week. But if you don’t get your job done, you’ll get fired.’ Workers will work 45 hours a week but put down 40 because they’ll get fired if they don’t.” Bobo estimates that 3 out of 4 workers who are owed overtime for their work are not paid for their efforts. Excuses such as these are not only unjust; they go against the rules set out by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which the president's administration has the power to regulate. Of course, these employer's excuses are discreet and often go unnoticed by just labor organizations. In many cases, they go unreported by the employee. However changing the current stance of overtime payment may enforce the rules and regulations more strongly and bring light to the issue which would hopefully decrease these unfair cases.

By raising the threshold to include more workers who receive overtime, we will give employees the opportunity to the just wages they deserve. More employees will rise above the poverty line and will be able to help their families better and pour more money into the economy.

We must protect the rights of employees to a fair wage. May we respect the dignity of workers and stride toward a more just employment system that gives employees what they deserve for a hard day’s work.

See our Special Section of Labor and Worker Justice.

Image: Flickr photo cc by fabbio

Editor's correction: The last sentence of the second paragraph has been changed from "will eliminate income inequality" to "eliminating income inequality".