After decades of decline in overtime pay, the Biden administration is considering action to sharply expand access in a time of high inflation. This is the fourth article of a four-part series examining the 40-year effort by big business and elected officials to deny Americans extra pay for extra work.
With Americans struggling with inflation, workers’ advocates are banking on a White House that has promised to make millions more workers eligible for overtime wages that pay time and a half.
Two presidents who made similar promises over the last 45 years failed to deliver, resulting in outdated federal overtime guidelines and underfunded labor enforcement.
But during decades in which lawmakers and lobbyists cut away at overtime access, states like Washington and California actually strengthened it. They increased the amount that a worker could earn while remaining eligible for overtime, and expanded overtime to previously exempt professions such as farmwork.
“In recent years, states have been leading the way for bolder action to restore and strengthen overtime protections,” says Paul Sonn, state policy program director at the National Employment Law Project.
By tapping into their progressive traditions to fill the federal void, such states suggest a pathway for others interested in bolstering such rights, regardless of what the White House does.
No ‘Life of Leisure’
As a child growing up in Washington state in the 1960s, Marilyn Watkins, now a policy director at the Economic Opportunity Institute in Seattle, eagerly anticipated a Jetsons-like future full of cool gadgets, more pay and less work. “With automation, it felt like: We’re all going to have a life of leisure.”
Generations later, the gadgets may be ubiquitous, but the idea of more play time and less work might feel like something happening in another universe for many workers struggling to keep up with rising prices.
While technology has replaced or devalued many traditional jobs, especially in manufacturing, Watkins notes that “we live in a time when many people struggle to achieve basic economic security and employers expect their workers to put in long hours and check email 24/7.”
Washington has long been known for its strong labor movement anchored to the shipping industry and major manufacturers like Boeing and Honeywell Aerospace. Many of the state’s workers became part of a strong middle class based on solid jobs with secure pensions, respectable salaries and overtime pay for those who worked extra hours.
The underpinnings of such advances were established early in the 20th century. The state passed a minimum wage for women in 1913, which marked a progressive coup, but one that …….