As a strategy, it’s been pretty effective: Oppose any and all incremental improvements to employee rights and pay, putting workers so far behind that only substantial changes will make any real difference. Then, argue against those substantial changes on the grounds they are too radical of a shift.

It has worked for decades with the minimum wage, which has lost buying power to inflation and inaction steadily since 1968, and it is being deployed again in opposition to the Obama administration’s much-needed change to overtime eligibility rules, which are just as far behind the times.

Under the new rules, employers will be required to pay salaried workers who make less than $47,476 a year overtime once they exceed 40 hours in a given week.

That would double the current threshold of $23,660, which allows employers to put low-income employees on salary to avoid compensating them fairly. Fast-food and retail workers often became managers in name only, given a title and a salary of $25,000 a year so that they could continue to stock shelves and mop floors for 50 or 60 hours a week without any overtime pay.

The threshold was last adjusted in 2004, and now covers just 7 percent of full-time salaried workers. In 1975, the threshold covered 62 percent of workers. The new rules, which will be effective starting Dec. 1, will raise the rate to 35 percent, according to administration officials.

Still, the new rules are being painted by opponents as too drastic.

A statement issued by Maine Sen. Susan Collins is typical. She calls the change “huge and sudden” and warns of “dramatic new costs.” Although Collins says she supports some increase in the salary threshold, she wants the Department of Labor to nullify the rule and consider something smaller.

Maine’s other senator, Angus King, says he wants an increase, too, but is also concerned that Obama’s plan is “too much, too soon.” King also worries about linking increases in the threshold to inflation.

Both senators seem to ignore the fact that the change is “huge and sudden” only because lawmakers for so long sat on their hands. The new rule is only going to be “too much, too soon” for institutions and corporations that have gotten used to exploiting the hard work of their employees for so long that it is business as usual.

King and Collins may have sincere reservations about the new overtime rules.

But for decades, “sincere reservations” have just been an excuse to maintain the status quo, while workers have watched their rights, pay and power erode. Now, it is time for action.

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