Opinion | This Labor Day, let’s get workers the overtime pay they deserve

Nick Hanauer is founder of Civic Ventures, a progressive advocacy group based in Seattle, Wash. Jim Ananich is a Democratic state senator from Flint

If it feels like you're working longer for less than your parents did, it's because you probably are.

Last fall, President Donald Trump's Labor Department struck down a rule that would have extended overtime protections to millions of hard-working Americans. Since then, workers have been cheated out of more than $700 million for extra hours they've worked. By the end of this year, that total will reach a mind-blowing $1.2 billion. That's over a billion dollars that's been stolen from the paychecks of American taxpayers.

And that’s not the only federal policy hurting workers. New data show companies that received big breaks from the Republican tax plan aren’t investing more in workers; they’re mostly repurchasing stock, helping make wealthy investors even richer. 
The disconnect between productivity and wages has been around for so long it's hard to remember when the middle class received an honest day's pay for an honest day's work. Here in Michigan it’s been made worse by attacks on wage laws that help skilled workers who build our roads and schools. But the situation's not hopeless. Progressive Michigan lawmakers are fighting to restore balance for men and women who get up and work hard every day.

It used to be that if you worked more than 40 hours a week, your employer would pay time-and-a-half in exchange for your work. That was the deal back when 62 percent of full-time salaried workers were eligible for overtime. But over the past four decades, the number of workers who qualify for overtime has eroded because the salary threshold hasn’t kept pace with inflation. In 1975, a worker earning the equivalent of up to $61,200 a year qualified for overtime, while that threshold is capped at $23,660 today. According to the Department of Labor, a pitiful seven percent of salaried workers now qualify for overtime pay.

For the rest, every hour worked over 40 hours a week is an hour worked for free. Indeed, according to Gallup, full-time salaried workers now work an average of 49 hours weekly, with little or no overtime pay to show for it.

Time is money, and ordinary folks are getting less of both.

When the American middle class was at its strongest, employers had two options if they didn't want to pay overtime. They could either raise employee wages above the salary threshold, or they could hire more employees to make the workload manageable within a 40-hour week. Either way, employees won.

Now, employers are squeezing five jobs' worth of work out of every four workers in order to increase CEO pay and shareholder profits while robbing the economy of tens of millions of jobs.

In Michigan alone if the new federal rule had been allowed to go into effect, nearly 275,000 workers in our state who sacrifice more time away from their families to do a good job would have been compensated more fairly for their efforts. That is why we will keep pushing for state-level legislation to update our overtime standards, oppose rigged economic rules that allow corporations to misclassify employees, and other tricks employers use to steal wages their employees have rightfully earned. 

Because in our economy, CEOs aren't the true job creators - you are. When workers have more money, businesses have more customers and hire more employees. A thriving, healthy and growing middle class isn't a consequence of economic growth, it is the driving force behind it.

And citizens of Michigan understand this. A recent survey found that 75 percent of Michigan voters - including 65 percent of independents and 67 percent of Republicans - support a commonsense plan to update our state’s overtime rules. 

As we enjoy another Labor Day holiday, let’s do something real to honor the hard work our families contribute day in and day out. It's time to bolster the forgotten middle class by finally expanding overtime eligibility here in Michigan.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission.

If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Monica WilliamsClick here for details and submission guidelines.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Fri, 08/31/2018 - 12:54am

It seems that these authors only care about what is on a time card, they seem to see every worker/every job defined by a time card and when you punch in/out. They show no interest in the knowledge and skills a person brings to a job, nor for the quality of work a person does, they make no mention how a person does their works, how they fit into a work team, they work with peers in other function or with customers. They show no appreciation of how work and a job impact a person doing them.
The authors seem to believe a job/work begins and ends with the time card, that a person’s working life is only what is on a time card.
The authors seem to see work and job in the way it was done in the past, if anything when it was a strong back and working hard was all a person did. They don’t grasp that we are in a knowledge and skills based economy, that there are untold jobs where people can work anywhere while doing a good job, that people have more responsibilities and authority over their work than ever before, how they do it, when they do it, where they do it. To ignore or deny the changing nature of work/jobs is to deny people’s self-control of the work.
The authors seem to have never heard of flex time, of job sharing, individuals setting their own hours and vacation.
The authors seem to only see the old and simplistic idea that a person is nothing more than their time card and that all a job means to a person is what is on the time card.
I have work both as an hourly unskilled laborer on an assembly line, and as salaried person with responsibility of what I did and how I did it and even when I worked on different parts of the job. I put in longer hours in my salaried jobs than ever in my hourly jobs and yet I had more satisfaction in the salaried jobs than ever in the hourly jobs. The authors ignore the individual and only see them as a time card and money. They can only see how work was done in an auto plant a couple of generations ago, they aren’t willing to see how those in the technology based operations do their jobs and the authority they have, and they showed no ability to see how the people today are working from home, from a laptop or tablet or phone.
Should the work rules for tomorrow’s jobs be written for the physically demanding jobs of more than a half century ago? Do these authors have any understanding of how work and jobs have changed and how they will change?

Fri, 08/31/2018 - 9:22pm

And work is seen as burdensome toil and drudgery forced on humanity and workers as mind numbed automatrons without the ability to choose and evaluate among almost limitless opportunities. Clearly Karl Marx isn't as dead as one would think.

Jim tomlinson
Sun, 09/02/2018 - 12:45am

We all are glad how well you like salary. Yet you fail to appreciate the long hours of hard work workers do beyond 40 to feed their family. You make it sound like they are moochers that they should be happy to give the employer free hours of toil and a job well done but off the clock. After all mimimum wage is good enough for them. Elistist.

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 4:18pm

Oh boo hoo…...You people are babies. Give me a break.

Mon, 09/03/2018 - 8:20pm

You should try to learn a bit about people before you presume about them and their experiences.
I learned about working long hours when I was hire on salaried [working longer than anyone in the plant and being on call when not at the plant]. I learned about what it takes to get the added skills watching my father [with a less than high school education going to adult ed. to learn the math necessary to apply for a better job, working for a boss who while hourly working a rotating shift and raising a family went to college part time for ten years to earn his degree so he could get his salaried job, I worked with guys working shift going to community college to earn the credits to get better pay. After earning my CIB, working ‘part-time’ and my wife working I went to college to earn my degree. I feel all of us are part of the 'elite' you seem to denigrate.
I have found there are lesson to learn from other people’s success, they include that people have choices, that it takes work and sacrifice to improve your situation and to build the needed knowledge and skills, and most importantly the person has to make choices.
Our world has changed, ditch diggers don’t use shovels any more, they have been using backhoes for generations and that is what is happing to all jobs. You need to look around; even the drive through ordering is being replaced by your phone. The people taking orders can’t try to get more overtime, that job will be gone soon. You and the authors can invest all you energy into overtime, but the people wanting good paying jobs need to choose to stay in school learning how to learn not trying to get more overtime because not only do they need to apply that lesson now to get needed knowledge and skills, but they will need to apply it for the rest of their life if they want to have control of their lives.
People that have the knowledge and skills are more interest in what they do and work at delivering value to help their employer succeed. Better to be teaching people how to succeed at getting a better paying job then expecting to make ends meet by getting more overtime.

Paul Jordan
Sun, 09/02/2018 - 8:52am

The article's point is that when people put in more time (with the attendant applied skills & creativity) they should be paid for it--and they aren't now. It doesn't matter whether they are flexing their time, etc., workers still deserve extra compensation for extra work. Period.

Mon, 09/03/2018 - 8:27pm

No disagreement about being paid for what you do, but that battle was fought during the last century. And there are two lessons from that battle, the economic world is changing and long hours are a way of life, as long as you have a cell phone you can be working, and that if you rely on a description on a sheet of paper [a rule] there will be other people figuring out what wasn’t said so it does have to be done.
The person trying to get more overtime to pay their bills will lose in either case; they need to be taught how to learn not how to manage overtime, and to continue to learn because their pay is based on the value perceived by thir employer.
Do you not like the idea of so many people being classified as ‘supervisors’ so change it, but what will you replace it with. Have you ever watched a person that owns a food truck work, and they have one employee they ‘supervise’. If you eliminate the term and force them to pay themselves overtime, because they surely aren’t earning a minimum wage based on all the hours they putting in getting that food truck to succeed, do you think that business will survive or will two jobs be lost?
I am not sure anyone will ever agree on what people deserve, but spending all the time has gotten to this situation, and by you concern it seems to have failed. Why do you think you or the authors can change and how could it be changed so we aren’t right back here in a few years?

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 11:35am

If people aren't happy with hours and pay, they can organize or join their union and pay dues and VOTE into office those people who will do something about it.

Mon, 09/03/2018 - 10:26am


If only this were true. The devastating policies that have destroyed unions and the "be glad you have a job" mentality of the lawmakers and business men in Michigan have used an abused workers for years now. Even if people vote for who they want in office because this state is so gerrymandered, it really doesn't count. The reason there are so many ballot initiatives this year is because of what some leaders call a "rigged" system and the politicians are working for themselves, not the people of MI.

Tue, 09/04/2018 - 4:32pm

Or given the extremely tight labor market your example employee can go to his boss and tell them he's going to another employer unless he gets such and such concession ... or just switch jobs without saying a thing. The fact is no one makes employees stay at a job they think is unfair to them.

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 4:17pm

What a hack piece.

Scott Roelofs
Tue, 09/04/2018 - 10:33pm

Dishonest opinion piece, because it conveniently leaves out critical information, such as:
1. Hourly employees are paid for overtime. They have been for decades, and still are.
2. Obama issued an executive order, directing the Labor Department to issue regulations greatly expanding the number of salaried (admin, supervisory, professional) employees that would qualify for overtime pay.
3. Obama set this to go into effect in December, 2016, ONE MONTH before leaving office.
4. Obama could have made this executive order years earlier, but then his precious legacy would have been tarnished by the damage done to the economy. So he did it as a lame duck (emphasis on lame) and left it for his successor to deal with.
5. US District judge Amos Mazzant halted the Obama action in November, 2016, just before it was to go into effect. The basis for the injunction was that Obama's regulation would have burdened state and local governments with large cost increases.
6. Trump reversed Obama's executive order and returned the system to what it was before Obama's over-reach.