Today is May Day — International Workers’ Day, a day of marches & rallies & protests led by immigrant workers across the country. And the first May Day of them all, back in 1886, was led by immigrant workers fighting for one of the most basic labor rights there is: the 8-hour day.
Thanks to their movement, overtime pay after 40 hours of work became a basic workplace standard.
But 132 years later, overtime is no longer a reality for hundreds of thousands of working people in our state. More and more of us are working more and more hours — but we're not getting paid for it. Pretty much all an employer has to do is call someone a manager and pay them a salary of at least $24,000 a year, and they can make them work as many hours as they feel like. Without any overtime pay at all.
The good news is that the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries has the power to write new rules to expand overtime protections, and that process is getting underway. It could have a huge impact on front-line managers and other underpaid salaried workers who don't get a dime for a single hour they work over the standard 40 a week. It could mean more money in their checks, more time in their lives, or a little bit of both.
It could be another extraordinary breakthrough for workers' rights in our state.
But you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the corporate lawyers and business lobbyists are already preparing to go to war to avoid having to respect people’s time. So we need to make sure the big business types aren’t the only ones in the room.
The people doing the work need to be heard and have a say in what this new policy could look like — and that’s what Working Washington is all about.
Overtime is such a key issue in labor history because the demand comes out of the basic reality that workers are human beings. We have families. We have communities. We have lives outside of work. Our time deserves respect, too.
And that’s why there's something just so perfect about the slogan that arose sometime back around that original May Day: “8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for what we will.”
Let’s make that balance a reality again.