During his last State of the Union Address, President Obama declared that “America needs a raise.” Yesterday, he acted on those words. The president announced that salaried employees (5 million Americans) making as much as $50,400 would be eligible for overtime. As Laura Clawson of Daily Kos puts it, employers will no longer be able to use exempt status (salaried employees) to keep from paying overtime. This move by the Obama Administration (if it’s not overturned by a court challenge) will either give employees more money or more time off. The 40 hour week will again become meaningful to millions of Americans. It’s a good day for working people.
P.S. President Obama is featured in The Huffington Post on his overtime reform. The president express great confidence that he is doing the right thing for American workers: "That's how America should do business. In this country, a hard day's work deserves a fair day's pay. That's at the heart of what it means to be middle class in America." I agree, but would add that what the president is doing will also help the working class and the working poor, who are often victims of wage theft. We all deserve a fair day's pay.
According to Common Dreams, McDonald’s employees in California, Michigan, and New York are suing both corporate owned stores and franchisees for wage theft. The employees assert that their pay has been lost due to fraud that includes: doctoring time sheets, preventing employees from taking breaks, making them work off the clock and forcing them to pay for uniforms. The workers in these states are trying to come together in a class action suit that could cover over 30,000 employees. If large companies don’t want to pay their employees and don’t want to let them have union protection, the next step will be courts. What popular companies have to hope is that judgments in courts of law are not followed by a worse fate: conviction in the court of public opinion.
Many years ago, I voted for Jerry Brown when he ran for President. People mocked him as “Governor Moon Beam,” but I always thought of him as a man who cared about people. He still is. Governor Brown has signed a bill of rights for domestic workers. The bill will provide overtime pay and other protections.
Governor Brown has acted courageously to protect the least among us. Hopefully other governors and state legislatures will follow his lead. What we really need is a national workers bill of rights.
A friend gave me a great book, The Wage Slave’s Glossary, which defines words related to work and workers. Two terms caught my eye: after dinner man and hour-glass ceiling. The first originated in the 17th century and referred to a man who had to go back to work after dinner. The book’s author Joshua Glenn quips, “We are all after-dinner men and women now.” The hour-glass ceiling is a related term. It refers to time constraints that limit careers, generally careers of working mothers. Some people need to do family work at nights and on weekends, which limits their “after dinner” potential.
I strongly recommend this book, which is wise, witty, and – too often – sad.