Last week, President Obama issued an executive order on immigration, protecting millions of families from deportation. There’s another action the President can take to help working Americans, without waiting for Congress:
He can direct the Department of Labor to expand the number of workers who can receive overtime pay, putting more money in the pockets of as many as 10 million Americans.
Seattle-based venture capitalist Nick Hanauer wrote an important piece in Politico last week calling on President Obama and the Department of Labor to make more workers eligible for overtime. Nick and I have joined forces with Democracy for America to launch a petition to the president asking him to raise wages and create jobs by expanding overtime. Below is the email Nick sent to DFA members last week.
I hope you’ll sign Nick’s petition. President Obama is listening. Let’s give him the support he needs to expand eligibility for overtime pay in America.
Former Secretary of Labor
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Nick Hanauer via Democracy for America
Date: Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 10:40 AM
Subject: SIGN MY PETITION: Tell President Obama to restore overtime pay!
I’m getting rich and you’re getting screwed. Sorry. But with a stroke of the pen, President Obama can make sure you get what you earned, without any congressional action at all.
If it feels like you’re struggling harder than your parents did, working longer hours for less money, it’s because you are. Meanwhile, a handful of capitalists like me are growing wealthy beyond our parents’ wildest dreams.
What’s changed? Overtime pay.
Your parents got a lot of it, and you don’t. In 1975, more than 65 percent of salaried workers earned overtime pay — today, just 11 percent do. That’s because the federal government has allowed the overtime threshold to erode to less than the poverty line for a family four. Earn more than $23,660 a year, and business owners like me can make you work unlimited overtime hours for no additional pay at all.
But to get the country back to the same equitable standards we had in 1975, the Department of Labor would simply have to raise the overtime threshold to $69,000. In other words, if you earn $69,000 or less, the law would require that you be paid time-and-a-half for every hour worked over 40 hours a week.
That would mean 10.4 million middle-class Americans with more money in your pockets or more time to spend with friends and family. And if corporate America didn’t want to pay you time and a half, it would need to hire hundreds of thousands of additional workers to pick up the slack — slashing the unemployment rate and forcing up wages.
President Obama could also expand the ranks of workers eligible for overtime pay by ending the exemption that denies overtime to teachers, doctors, computer professionals, and many others. And he can do all this simply by instructing the Department of Labor to change the rules — immediately putting money into the pockets of millions of American workers.
That’s why I’m joining Democracy for America and Robert Reich in calling on President Obama to do exactly that. Sign our petition to the president: Raise the overtime threshold to give more Americans the overtime pay they’ve earned!
Many of my fellow capitalists will warn you that a higher overtime threshold would be a job killer, but the truth is, we already have more capital than we know what to do with. Corporate profits have doubled over the past 40 years to more than 12 percent of GDP; that’s about a $1 trillion a year in extra profits.
But rather than invest in creating jobs or raising wages, executives like me are mostly spending our windfall profits manipulating the price of our own shares through stock buybacks. In fact, over the past decade, public U.S. corporations have spent an astounding $6.9 trillion buying back shares, reducing the total outstanding, and increasing the value of the remaining shares owned by capitalists like me.
We get richer. You get nothing. Again, sorry. But we’re only playing by the rules — rules that President Obama has the power to change.
President Obama is showing that he isn’t shy about using his executive powers to do good things for the American people. But the White House needs a strong public push — the president needs to hear from as many of you as possible that overtime pay is to the middle class what the minimum wage is to the working poor, and that a stronger middle class is good for business and good for America.
Join me, Robert Reich and Democracy for America in telling President Obama to instruct the Labor Department to expand overtime eligibility. Let’s raise the wage and put more Americans back to work.
Thank you for standing up for the middle class.