Trump just rolled back overtime pay. Now, workers like me need Gov. Murphy to protect us. | Opinion

Posted Feb 06, 2020

By Andrea Rodriguez

Andrea Rodriguez says If workers are going to be asked to work 50, 60 even 70 hours a week away from our families, then they deserve to be paid for the extra time we put in. And once our extra hours aren’t “free” for employers anymore, we may also see many decide they don’t need to keep us at work around the clock, giving us back some of our nights and weekends for our personal lives.'

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This month the Trump Administration continued its attacks on America’s workers with a new rule that lets big corporations continue to make millions if their employees work more than 40 hours a week without any extra pay for their hard work and dedication. President Trump says that if you make more than $35,000 a year, you’re a highly paid executive who doesn’t need overtime pay. Workers like me need Gov. Phil Murphy to step in to restore our overtime pay – the way that Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee did last year.

The overtime rules are a lot like a minimum wage for the middle class: they make sure workers have time for their personal lives by protecting the 40 hour work week – and they guarantee them extra pay when they do have to work longer hours.

There was an exemption for highly paid managers and professionals – who have the clout to negotiate their own pay and work schedules. But most salaried workers were guaranteed overtime.

Not anymore. What happened is the overtime exemption became a political football. Business groups and Republican lawmakers blocked it from being increased. As a result, the portion of salaried full-time workers covered by the overtime protections has plummeted from 63% in the 1970s to just 15% today.

I’m one of the workers here in New Jersey who are paying the price. Since graduating from Rutgers, I’ve been working as a manager at Panera. I often put in 45 or 50 hours per week – long hours that cut into time for my family and my community. But under Trump’s new overtime rules, I don’t get a dime of extra pay. Instead, workers like me can be made to work unlimited hours – essentially for free.

The salary level under which workers are guaranteed overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week used to be about two-and-half to three times the earnings of a minimum wage worker. Here in New Jersey that would translate to about $78,000 a year by 2024, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective, which recommends restoring our state’s overtime threshold to that level.

We need to bring overtime standards back to that level in New Jersey to protect workers like me. I make about $60,000 a year. That doesn’t make me a rich executive by any stretch -- especially in New Jersey where you need to make about $60,000 a year just to afford rent on a two-bedroom apartment, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.

If we’re going to be asked to work 50, 60 even 70 hours a week away from our families, workers like me deserve to be paid for the extra time we put in. And once our extra hours aren’t “free” for employers anymore, we may also see many decide they don’t need to keep us at work around the clock, giving us back some of our nights and weekends for our personal lives.

Other states are starting to step in to protect their workers from the Trump overtime rollback. They’ve figured out that restoring strong overtime pay protections is a way jump start middle income salaries – and reclaim the forty hour week for overworked families.

Washington State is the roadmap for what New Jersey should do. In December, Washington’s labor agency under Governor Inslee finalized a new overtime rule that will protect workers earning up to two-and-a-half times the state minimum wage – roughly the level where overtime pay protections were back in the 1970s when most salaried workers were covered. In Washington that will translate to about $83,000 a year by 2028, which will help most middle-class workers across the state.

That’s the type of bold action that we need here in New Jersey – where workers are being stretched even more with a cost-of-living that’s even higher than Washington’s. Please Governor Murphy: help us reclaim the 40 hour work week and the right to be paid for our hard work. It’s only fair.

Andrea Rodriguez is from Perth Amboy and is a manager at Panera.

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