An estimated 28,000 salaried employees in Maine, who would have received overtime protections under a blocked rule change by the Obama administration, stand to lose out when the Trump administration releases its final changes to the overtime rule. 

Former President Barack Obama’s overtime threshold — the salary under which all workers are automatically entitled to time-and-a-half pay — was ruled invalid in late 2016 by a Texas federal district court just before it was scheduled to go into effect. Rather than defend it in court, the Trump administration is proposing their own rule. 

Observers expected the U.S. Department of Labor to finalize its proposal by the end of summer. Although details have still yet to emerge, if the final rule does not stray too far from what the administration has already revealed, it will likely not expand overtime pay for salaried workers in Maine who work more than 40 hours a week. 

Currently, only 20 percent of Maine’s salaried workforce earns overtime pay, a rate that has languished after years of policy inaction on the state and federal levels.  

Earlier this year, the Labor Department indicated it would raise the overtime threshold to an annual salary of $35,308. While it is technically an increase over the current $23,660 threshold, it would fall far below the update proposed by the Obama administration in 2016, which, being tied to inflation, would have raised the threshold to $55,000 next year. 

Nationally, an estimated 8.2 million workers who would have seen overtime protections under the Obama rule will be left behind by President Donald Trump’s lower threshold.  

In Maine, around 26,000 of the state’s 130,000 salaried workers, or 20 percent, get overtime protection — owing to a state law enacted in 1999. That law mandates that Maine’s benefit threshold equals 3,000 times the minimum wage, which means that all salaried employees making less than $33,000 are currently entitled to overtime. Next year, the threshold will increase to $36,000. Because that is above Trump’s proposed threshold of $35,308, no Maine workers are expected to lose overtime protection. 

However, had the Obama rule been enacted, a total of 54,000 salaried workers in Maine, or 42 percent of the workforce, would be covered, according to estimates by the Maine Center for Economic Policy. That is 28,000 additional workers than currently protected by the state law. 

Among those 28,000 employees, MECEP notes, are 13,500 Maine workers that have salaries not eligible under the state’s current threshold, and 14,400 workers who should currently be protected but are not because their employer is misclassifying them as “executive,” “administrative” or “professional” workers. 

Maine legislature will consider a bill that would lock in the Obama overtime threshold 

The overtime threshold is supposed to protect the lowest paid salaried workers. Professional, administrative and executive roles have long been exempted if they were considered high-earning positions. But employers frequently finagle the system by misclassifying “professional” or “administrative” duties, placing a greater onus on how “high-earning” is defined.   

“Someone who’s a deputy assistant manager at Dunkin Donuts can be qualified as an ‘administrative’ or ‘professional’ worker because they may have some very minimal supervisory responsibilities,” explained James Myall, a policy analyst at MECEP. “That’s why the salary test has become so important.” 

Labor advocates have long been fighting to raise the federal threshold. Prior to the Bush administration’s 2004 rule setting the threshold at $23,660, which is lower than the federal poverty level for a household of four, it had not been adjusted since 1975. In the meantime, the share of the salaried workforce with overtime protections has continued to fall, coinciding with an era marked by an ever widening gap between workers wages and their productivity. The 1975 threshold, $8,060 annually, covered 65 percent of salaried workers at the time, but just 11 percent of workers were covered by 2013. 

Last spring, Myall testified before the Maine legislature in favor or a bill proposed by state Rep. Ryan Tipping (D-Orono), which would lock in Obama’s proposed rule, raising the state’s overtime threshold each year until it reaches $55,000 in 2022, then tying future increases to inflation. 

The legislation, which will be taken up next session and faces strong opposition from major corporate lobby groups, as well as the University of Maine System, would be a significant step forward, Myall says, after years of inaction at the federal level and with a significantly weakened rule expected soon. 

“There’s obviously not a lot of hope [the Trump administration will] do the right thing, based on experience,” Myall said. “So there’s been more of an effort to move the fight to the states.” 

This year, legislation to raise the threshold went before the Massachusetts legislature, and the executive branches in Colorado, Washington state and Pennsylvania are in the process of lifting theirs as well. In addition to Maine, California, Alaska and New York already have their own state-specific overtime thresholds tied to their minimum wage. New York is raising their threshold to $58,500 and California is set to cover everyone making less than $62,400 by 2023. 

Maine’s federal lawmakers have a legislative vehicle too 

While the fate of Tipping’s state bill will not be known until next year, there is also a bill introduced in June in the U.S. House and Senate, called the “Restoring Overtime Pay Act,” which would lift the salary threshold to $51,000. 

Rep. Jared Golden has signed on as a co-sponsor to the legislation, while Rep. Chellie Pingree and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have not yet done so. 

The preceding originally appeared on mainebeacon.com, a website and podcast created by progressive group the Maine People’s Alliance. 

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