Opinion: Whitmer supports workers with overtime rule

Jim Ananich
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer along and with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist announce their plan to expand the right to overtime for more Michigan workers during a news conference at the Fisher Building in Detroit on Thursday.

If you’re a salaried worker in 2019, this should sound familiar: You’re working well over 40 hours per week. Your boss can (and does) contact you at any time with requests. You’re expected to be on-call evenings, weekends and holidays.

And you’re not getting paid for it.

Thousands of salaried employees are clocking in far beyond the 9-to-5 workday without any extra pay to show for it. Under current federal rules, only those earning less than $35,568 per year at their salaried job are not required to be paid overtime.

The workers we’re talking about aren’t C-suite executives; they are the boots-on-the-ground, make-it-happen, loyal employees without whom businesses and organizations would fail to succeed.

They’re also often vulnerable to receiving demands for after-hours work. Many of these employees are treated like they’re on call and are expected to have their cell phones in hand at all times.

This isn’t a new problem, but it has steadily become worse over the past half-century. In 1975, 63% of workers were able to earn overtime pay. Now, it’s down to just 5%. The original overtime rule was set to help protect salaried workers who aren’t supervisors or managers, ensuring that they would be provided overtime pay to help make ends meet — yet fewer and fewer people are able to earn extra pay despite not being managers or supervisors.

I’ve introduced legislation for the past three terms to address this glaring problem. Three times I have introduced the bill in the Michigan Senate to increase the overtime threshold, and three times it has been denied even a hearing from Republican committee chairs.

We’ve made our voices heard at the national level, too. This May, House Democratic Leader Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, and I submitted a letter on behalf of our caucuses to the U.S. Department of Labor in opposition to the Trump administration’s proposal of raising the overtime threshold to just $35,568, which is more than $10,000 less than the Obama administration’s proposed level of $47,476 in 2016.

In plain English: The Trump administration thinks that if you make $36,000 per year, you are a manager or supervisor who doesn’t deserve overtime pay. That doesn’t add up to me.

Now we finally have the opportunity to see real change. Last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced her plan to significantly boost the salary level at which workers qualify for overtime pay.

Our governor knows that for families to succeed and our economy to grow, people must be paid fairly for the work they put in. That’s why she is directing the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to spend the better part of a year gathering input from Michigan workers, families and businesses to form a new overtime threshold that will put additional earnings in the pockets of thousands of Michiganians.

Real people will benefit in a real way from Whitmer’s bold action.

Whitmer’s proposal is a statement of our values. If we value hard work in this country, we need to value the people who do the job. It’s not too much to ask.

State Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint, is leader of the Senate minority.