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On overtime pay, Washington state must step up


OLYMPIA (Nov. 8, 2018) — By almost any metric, Americans are working harder and longer than ever before. But even though a worker’s productivity is much higher than someone in a similar position in the 1970s, he or she is likely earning less than that worker did 50 years ago.

Millions of workers today work more than 40 hours every week but don’t earn a penny of overtime. That’s why the Obama Administration’s Department of Labor enacted a rule in 2016 increasing what is known as the “overtime threshold” guaranteeing overtime protections for workers who earned less than $47,476.

Unfortunately, that rule has since been blocked, and federal rules today only protect those who earn less than $23,660. Obama’s rule would effectively give over 4 million Americans a raise, amounting to roughly a billion dollars more in earnings a year, and create or strengthen jobs for nearly 9 million more.

Clearly, it is time to bring modernity to these rules.

The Trump administration has shown no sign that it will pursue anything nearly as protective for workers. So yet again, it is up to the states to step up where the federal government has failed.

That is why I’ve directed my state Department of Labor and Industries to update Washington’s decades-old rule. They initiated a rule-making process in March and are gathering public comment on their draft proposal now.

After decades of stagnant wages, we can grow paychecks for thousands of Washingtonians and create new jobs. If employers don’t want to pay you overtime wages, they can either raise your salary or hire more people to handle the workload, allowing you to spend more time with your family.

Either way, it’s a win for workers. Ensuring overtime pay for overtime worked provides sensible assurances that employees will not continue to be short-changed.

It’s true that many communities are experiencing record low unemployment numbers. But those numbers can be misleading. They tell only a small part of the story when it comes to our collective economic security.

The quality of a job matters as much as the quantity. And the quality of employment in America, in terms of wages earned for hours worked, has been out of balance for many years.

The result is millions of workers who feel left behind; they see headlines touting the incredible growth of our economy, but have yet to see the benefits of that growth in their paychecks.

It is now up to states to fortify workers through strong overtime protections. Washington has consistently ranked as one of the top economies in the country while also being ranked as the best state for workers. We know a strong economy goes hand-in-hand with a strong and well-supported workforce.

Washington state is stepping up to protect workers where the federal government has not. Updating our decades-old overtime rule is one sensible step towards helping more workers share in our economic prosperity.

Jay Inslee is serving his second term as Governor of the State of Washington. This column originally appeared in The (Tacoma) News Tribune and is crossposted here with the author’s permission. Follow Jay Inslee on Twitter at @govinslee.

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