What we said at the federal Department of Labor "listening session" on overtime rules

Rachel Lauter, Executive Director of Working Washington and Fair Work Center, offered the following remarks at a U.S. Department of Labor “listening session” on overtime rules:

“I’m here to say that nobody should have to work without getting paid for it.

Right now, the federal government is standing by as the 40-hour workweek slowly disappears. As recently as the mid-1970s, more than 60% of salaried workers got time and a half when they worked over 40. Now almost none do.

And it’s not because people are working less hours.

The state of Washington is in the midst of a rulemaking process to address this issue, and we strongly support state action on this issue. Workers have faith that our state listens to them, because in recent years they’ve seen our state act to raise wages, provide paid sick days, pass paid family leave, and more.

Workers don’t have as much faith in the ability of the current federal government to listen.

But this is supposed to be a listening session, so I’m asking you to listen to the kinds of things we’ve been hearing from workers about how overtime exemptions work for them.

  • You should listen to the salaried retail manager in Lake City whose work week starts at 50 hours and only goes up from there — she’s expected to work endless hours on an impossible pile of work. Her bosses wonder who hourly workers at her store don’t want to “move up” into manager jobs, but she knows it’s because they see how her time is treated and don’t want that for themselves.

  • You should listen to the woman who works for a salary doing billing in Burien who has been stuck in the same type of job and the same pay for more than a decade without the ability to move ahead because having to care for young children means she can’t give endless hours on her employer’s whim and that’s what the “more prestigious” jobs demand. Meanwhile her ex-husband works a salaried job and his career isn’t hampered by the same responsibilities, further exacerbating pay inequity.

  • You should listen to the salaried engineer in Snohomish County who frequently works 45 - 50 hours at his job, sometimes up to 60 hours, without any additional pay or accommodation for the extra hours and the way that affects his life. He likes his job and needs the money — he can just see the years going by and doesn’t want to trade his life for his work, with nothing in exchange.

  • You should listen to the person who works at a for-profit service provider in the Olympia area who gets paid a salary of about $40,000/year and hasn’t had a day without work since he started, including during a friend’s wedding. He had a similar experience of endless hours in his previous position as a manager at Sizzler, for which he got paid $38,000.

  • You should listen to the chef in Ballard who regularly worked 60 - 90 hours a week running a restaurant kitchen... for a salary of $29,000 a year. The constant work & stress had a severe impact only her health, and she began to struggle with alcoholism.

  • You should listen to the fast food manager in Kirkland who was expected to put in 12+ hours a day and says he didn’t have much real responsibility, but the stress of the constant hours made him less productive & a worse manager to his employees.

And you should listen to the hundreds of thousands of other stories like this from workers across Washington state, and millions more across the country.

What you hear when you listen to workers is that the issue of restoring overtime protections isn’t just about money. It’s about time. It’s about making employers value their employees’ time in the only way they understand — by making them pay for it again.

It’s time for our state and the federal government to restore overtime protections and bring workers lives back into balance. Workers are human beings, and our time counts too.