Whitmer: Trump overtime pay rule ‘far too weak’

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer meets with The Detroit News' editorial board at Cadillac Place in Detroit, Monday.

Lansing — Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is urging Republican President Donald Trump’s administration to toughen proposed overtime pay rules, saying the current form would “gut” promised protections for 192,000 Michigan workers.

The Trump administration in March announced plans that would scale back an Obama-era overtime rule that had been suspended by a federal judge before it took effect.

The proposed rule is “far too weak to provide Michigan’s workers with the overtime pay protections that they need and deserve,” Whitmer said in a May 17 letter to Melissa Smith, a division director in the U.S. Department of Labor.

Under the new proposal, employees who earn under $35,308 a year would be guaranteed overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours per week, up from the current $23,660 threshold but down from the $47,476 promised in 2016 under former President Barack Obama.

Whitmer is urging the Trump administration to increase its proposed pay threshold, allowing the rate to rise with inflation in future years and ensure workers with limited managerial duties aren’t exempted from overtime rules like executives.

“Our state is already feeling the adverse effects from the decision to abandon the previous overtime rule altogether,” the governor said.  “As a result, Michigan workers have lost more than $56 million in overtime pay — a pay cut that is hurting our state’s working families and our economy — and this new proposal is more of the same.”

Former Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican whom Whitmer defeated in the 2018 general election, had joined the federal lawsuit against the Obama-era overtime rule, arguing the pay mandate would have killed job creation.

The Trump administration announced its version in March, saying the proposal would make more than 1 million American workers who earn between $455 and $679 per week eligible for overtime compared with the current active rule from 2004.

“Our economy has more job openings than job seekers and more Americans are joining the labor force,” Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said at the time. The proposal will “bring common sense, consistency, and higher wages to working Americans,” he said.

The Department of Labor is accepting public comment on the proposed rule through Tuesday.

Business groups strongly opposed the 2016 rule, which was “excessive” and would have “caused a lot of problems for our members,” said Charlie Owens, Michigan director for the National Federation of Independent Business, which was party to the lawsuit.

The Trump administration’s replacement is “obviously more reasonable” but the group has not taken an official position on it, Owens said.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich of Flint and House Minority Leader Christine Greig of Farmington Hills submitted a letter of opposition last week. Union and worker advocacy organizations on Monday praised Whitmer for her opposition.