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How will the Trump administration affect the rules governing your workplace — and what you get paid?
Answers to these questions started coming into focus this week during the Senate nomination hearing for proposed head of the Department of Labor, Alexander Acosta. Acosta is President Trump’s second nominee for Labor Secretary. He was named last month after the previous nominee, Andrew Pudzer — CEO of fast food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. — withdrew amid controversy.
Acosta is an attorney and dean of the Florida International University College of Law.
Not surprisingly, the hearing highlighted the desire of Republican lawmakers and the Trump administration to dismantle labor rules and executive orders put in place by the Obama administration.
Committee chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) charged that the Obama Administration had “unleashed a regulatory avalanche that held job creators back from creating jobs.”
“Too many of the federal government’s actions over the last few years have made it harder for American workers to keep up, adjust to the changing world, and create, find, or keep a job,” he said.
Alexander’s statements are in line with the many comments that President Trump has made about regulatory reform, but the real question for American workers will be which regulations the new administration wants to change or eliminate.
Here’s a quick look at some changes that seem likely:
Overtime pay eligibility may shrink
One clear target is the rule requiring companies to pay overtime to some white-collar workers.
Whether or not your employer is required to pay overtime currently depends on a number of things, including the type of work you do, how much you get paid and your employment contract.
Under Fair Labor Standards updated at the end of 2016, employers are exempt from paying overtime to white-collar workers earning more than $913 per week (or $47,476 annually). In other words, if you earn less than that in a white-collar job, you should be paid overtime for working beyond 40 hours per week.
That threshold represents a huge change from rules set in 2004, which said employers must pay overtime to white-collar workers only if they earned less than $455 per week. Under the updated rules, the threshold for overtime pay also would automatically adjust every three years starting in 2020. But the new rules, formulated in the Obama administration could be reversed or revised if some Republicans have their way.
In confirmation hearings, Acosta was asked how he would look at the overtime rule. He agreed the rules needed an update, but suggested the new threshold was too great a burden for employers.
“The overtime rule hasn’t been updated since 2004 and I think it’s unfortunate that rules that involve dollar values can sometimes go more than a decade — sometimes 15 years — without updating, because life does become more expensive over time,” said Acosta, who also agreed that for some employers (notably non-profit organizations), the big jump from the old $455 per week limit to the new $913 threshold was challenging.
“When they are adjusted (after a long time without change), you see impacts such as a doubling of the amount that does create what I’ll call a stress on the system — particularly in areas, both industry and geographic areas — that are lower waged historically,” he added. “I think is a very difficult decision but a serious one because the economy does feel a substantial impact from such a large change.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) underscored the reasons why the rule change was enacted in the first place.
“That rule helped restored the 40 hour work week, which is the cornerstone of protection for middle class workers. Before that overtime rule, workers could be asked to put in extra hours — 60, 70, 80 hours a week — without earning a single extra dollar for the overtime hours that they spent away from their families ,” she said. “And that new overtime rule expanded the number of workers who qualify for overtime pay, increasing economic security .. for millions of families.”
She asked Acosta whether he believes workers should be paid overtime for the overtime hours they work. “I do believe workers that are entitled to overtime pay should receive pay for their overtime,” replied Acosta. But he left unanswered the question of which workers should be eligible for overtime pay.
Workplace-safety records rules rollback
How accountable does your employer need to be for documenting accidents that happen in your workplace? That’s one of the key questions behind a Republican move to rewrite another rule introduced late last year by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
It’s called the “Clarification of Employer’s Continuing Obligation to Make and Maintain an Accurate Record of Each Recordable Injury and Illness.” That’s a mouthful, but it deals with when employers should be penalized for not keeping accurate records of injuries and illnesses. The current rule requires employers to keep accurate records going back five years. The Republican rollback would mean that employers will only face fines for “record-keeping failures” in a six-month statute of limitations period.
Sen. Alexander and President Trump have both expressed support for scrapping the rule. And yesterday, the necessary to overturn it.
Notwithstanding this change, Acosta did pledge in his confirmation hearing this week that he is committed to workplace safety.
“Congress has enacted workplace safety laws. The Department of Labor enforces these, and if confirmed, I will work to enforce the laws under the Department’s jurisdiction fully and fairly,” he told the Senate committee. “As a former prosecutor, I will always be on the side of the law and not any particular constituency.”
Greater support for women in tech
If you are a woman in the tech sector — or a woman looking to move into any science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) job — the new administration has declared its support for you.
President Trump has been vocal on this issue, which is not traditionally a Republican talking point. At the end of February, Trump signed two bills (H.R. 321, the INSPIRE Women Act) and H.R. 255 (the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act) that he said would help create greater opportunities for women in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
“Currently, only 1 in every 4 women who gets a STEM degree is working in a STEM job, which is not fair and it’s not even smart for the people that aren’t taking advantage of it,” he said. “It’s unacceptable that we have so many American women who have these degrees but yet are not being employed in these fields. So I think that’s going to change. That’s going to change very rapidly.”
State administrations are also tackling gender gaps in the workplace, according to a new study we reported on this week.
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