Nonprofits Rallying Behind New Overtime Rule

Isaiah J. Poole

When the Department of Labor released new rules that would require millions of lower-wage workers to be paid overtime for working more than 40 hours a week, a number of prominent nonprofit organizations – including some allies on the left – protested. That split gave conservatives in Congress more fuel for their drive to oppose the rule.

“Every day, in each of our districts, these organizations are making a difference in countless lives, whether helping underprivileged youth, building good homes for low-income families, or serving the needs of individuals with disabilities,” said Rep. Tim Wahlberg (R-Mich.), a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. ” We should do everything we can to support and encourage these crucial services, but … this rule will do the exact opposite.”

But the Economic Policy Institute has so far succeeded in getting more than 150 of the nation’s leading nonprofit and advocacy organizations to endorse the overtime rule. Campaign for America’s Future is among the supporting organizations, as are People’s Action, Center for Community Change, Center for Popular Democracy, Coalition on Human Needs, Interfaith Worker Justice, National Low Income Housing Coalition, and a number of national and state-level religious-based organizations.

Their statement calls the overtime rules “a great victory for working people across the United States,” and says that while they recognize that many nonprofits are strapped for cash and will be challenged to comply with the new regulations, “we embrace the opportunity to restore the overtime pay that lower-paid workers toiling more than 40 hours a week are entitled to.”

Currently, workers can be considered salaried, and exempt from overtime rules, if they make as little as $23,660 a year. That threshold was set in 2004; before then the levels had not been adjusted since 1975, and the 2004 rules barely moved the needle when inflation is taken into account. In other words, the 2016 overtime rules, which are scheduled to take effect December 1 and sets an overtime threshold at just below $47,500 a year, barely brings workers back in line to where they were in the late 1970s.

A full-court press by corporate lobbyists continues behind legislation in Congress to block the implementation of the overtime rule. Behind the press is the implicit acknowledgment that thousands of businesses, as well as universities and some nonprofit organizations, have built their operating models on extracting unpaid labor from low-wage workers, using the loophole of calling them “managerial” even though their routine duties in no way match the common understanding of that term.

“As nonprofit organizations more broadly, we are dedicated to improving the public good,” the nonprofit letter states. “It is time to revisit the idea that working for the public good should somehow mean requiring the lowest-paid among us to support these efforts by working long hours, many of which are unpaid.”

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