Trumka, Top Woman Workers’ Group Hail Obama Overtime Pay Plan; ATU’s Hanley: Bring Inter-City Bust Drivers In, Too

WASHINGTON –AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and a top group that fights for female workers are praising Democratic President Barack Obama’s plan to expand eligibility for overtime pay to millions of workers nationwide.

And Larry Hanley, the Amalgamated Transit Union president, agrees.  But he says Obama should bring in other workers, too – especially those inter-city bus drivers now not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal overtime pay law.

The plan, which Obama unveiled on March 13, will raise the salary threshold for declaring a worker “executive” or “professional.” and ineligible for overtime, from its current level of just under $24,000 yearly.  Anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush established that threshold, which was higher than the prior threshold.

But Bush also expanded the definition of who could be a “professional” or a “manager,” banning over-time pay for millions of low-level workers who spend 95% of their time on other tasks.

Trumka and Deborah Ness, executive director of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said Obama’s action would restore overtime pay eligibility for those workers, who include secretaries, food shift supervisors and convenience store managers.  Predictably, the lobby for businesses that pay their workers – who are mostly women – the least, the National Retail Federation, blasted Obama’s decision.

So did congressional Republicans.  Overtime pay means nothing to workers without jobs, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, snorted.

Obama is telling the Labor Department to write new overtime pay rules to enforce the Fair Labor Standards Act, which governs overtime pay law.  His directive helps carry out his promise to use executive authority to raise the U.S. standard of living, since the House GOP majority and Senate Republican filibusterers refuse to do so.

“We applaud the president’s courageous action to ensure workers get paid for the work they do,” said Trumka, who stood in the hot mid-August sun on the Labor Department steps years ago to denounce Bush’s overtime curbs.  Trumka called Obama’s action “an important step towards raising wages, creating jobs and lifting the economic tide for millions.  This will help to build an economy that honors work, not one that steals from workers.  This is the leadership working people expect and deserve.”

Ness hailed Obama’s “very welcome and badly needed move to promote fair pay by requiring employers to pay more low-wage workers the wages they rightfully deserve for overtime work.”  She also said the U.S. should enact paid family and sick leave, raise the minimum wage and close the male-female pay gap.  The GOP has deep-sixed Democratic minimum wage, paid leave and equal pay legislation.

“Coercive overtime is a huge problem,” she said.  Millions of people must “work more than 40 hours per week without compensation because of outdated employment classifications and salary thresholds.  When this happens, workers, families, communities, and ultimately our economy suffer.

“This recalibration of who is eligible for overtime pay will mean more employees who work long hours will get the pay they deserve – at last.  This will help promote the basic fairness we urgently need in our workplaces and boost the economic security of women and working families,” Ness added.

Hanley said the inter-city bus drivers should come in for overtime pay, too.  That’s because non-union inter-city rivers, who now do not get overtime, must take second or third jobs, to make ends meet.  The net result, he said, is driver fatigue and higher possibilities of accidents for the non-union drivers.

ATU represents unionized city and inter-city bus drivers, including at Greyhound and Trailways.  They get overtime and decent pay, and don’t need second jobs.

“Companies in the inter-city bus industry are exempt from FLSA, which invites these operators to overwork their low-wage drivers,” ATU said.  Putting the inter-city drivers under the act would require a change in the law.

“The consequences of overworked and overtired fast food managers are far less than the consequences of overworking professional bus drivers who are responsible for the safety of human lives,” Hanley added.   The National Transportation Safety Board calculates that driver fatigue causes 36% of all fatalities in intercity bus crashes.

“We applaud President Obama’s proposal to extend overtime pay for millions.  All workers deserve to be fairly compensated for overtime, but in a safety-sensitive industry where drivers are operating a 50,000-lb. vehicle traveling at 65 miles per hour it’s a matter of life and death.”

-PAI