The Obama administration's rule expanding overtime pay eligibility for an estimated 4.2 million American workers — which had been set to take effect Thursday — was a perfectly imperfect example of executive overreach. It went too far, was slapped into place too fast and exhibited little concern for the massive burden of implementation being dumped on the nation's employers in a still-recovering economy.
And now the entire mess has been sent careening off the rails by a federal judge in Texas. Judge Amos Mazzant (an Obama appointee) issued an injunction last week to stop the rule from taking effect at least temporarily — and likely for good.
The rule covered employees who are classified as salaried and thus exempt from overtime regulations by their employers. Under current law, nobody making less than $455 a week can be exempt from overtime rules; the new rule more than doubled that to $921 a week, or $47,892 a year. In the short term, the ruling sparks chaos. Some kind of disruption was probably in the cards anyway. Obama's rule was clearly enacted with the expectation that Hillary Clinton would succeed him, keep the rule in place and veto any congressional maneuvers to overturn it. But Donald Trump won instead, and forces were already aligning to pressure him into at least a partial reversal of the rule, setting up an ideological conflict on day one of his presidency between his worker-friendly campaign rhetoric and the interests of a Republican Congress and business community.
But Mazzant's ruling also sets the stage for a more rational compromise.
Start with the reality that under current rules, some workers are being abused. In many industries, including the restaurant and retail sectors that make up so much of the Volusia-Flagler economy, employers have been known to promote a worker to management, give him a small raise and then expect him to routinely work 50 or 60 hours a week, sometimes at many of the same duties he was assigned before the change in status. A not-so-drastic increase in the cutoff could help protect those workers, along with better enforcement of existing rules.
On the flip side, Obama's new regulations would have taken a sledgehammer to the flexibility that many young professional workers enjoy — including the ability to work remotely or manage their workload, working longer hours during busy seasons and shorter shifts in down times. Trump's administration should work with Congress to adjust the duties element of the overtime law to better reflect modern working habits — and free more professional and creative employees from the tyranny of the time clock.
And in the long run, this entire sorry mess should serve as a warning to future presidents for years to come. The Constitution puts limits on executive power, and exceeding them — even with the best of intentions — can be a recipe for big, big trouble.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD