The election’s impact on overtime rules.
Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been working to revise and update the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). One revision that was due to impact our campus was an adjustment to the rules regarding who is eligible for overtime. Currently, anyone with a salary less than $23,660 is eligible for overtime. The idea that even salaried workers may qualify for overtime was developed in 1938 as a way to prevent employers from eluding the 40-hour work week and overtime rules by paying their workers a “salary,” but not wages high enough to live on. The government felt that there should be a base standard below which workers were entitled to full pay for their work and to avoid exploitation.
Unfortunately, the minimum salary to qualify as exempt from FLSA overtime rules has not been adjusted since 2004, nor has it kept pace with inflation. The Obama administration proposed to bring the minimum salary level to the 40th percentile of all salaried workers, or $47,476. As you can imagine, many corporations and chambers of commerce opposed this new rule, as it would limit their ability to exploit low-wage work and avoid paying earned overtime.
On our campus, the new overtime rules were set to affect a limited number of research faculty and a greater number of our non-supervisory Officer of Administration colleagues.* The new overtime salary is set to go into effect on December 1, and many of our campus colleagues were anticipating a decent raise.
It is our understanding that the Trump administration plans to undo the new Obama rules shortly after taking office. We are not sure of the impact this would have here on campus, but we are concerned that the UO administration might use this possibility as an excuse to not implement the Obama administration’s salary rules. The new rules are designed to address decades of neglect and prevent the rank exploitation of labor. They are the product of months of work and research, and we are convinced they are just.
In the next few weeks and months, our university administration will be signaling whether they plan to join the larger campus community in opposition to the Trump administration’s attempt to change our country into a poorer, more fearful place. How they react to the rumored undoing of the Obama administration’s progress on updating the overtime rules will provide us with an early clue.
We call on the university administration to follow the guidance of the Obama administration and set minimum salary levels that do not qualify for overtime at $47,476 and not undo them even if afforded the opportunity.
*The FLSA does not apply to doctors, lawyers, or teachers. We cannot find the reason this provision exists, but it seems to have been part of the original law.
Other impacts of the election
With respect to statewide election results, we are delighted with the election of Governor Kate Brown. Democrats will retain majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. The election of Dennis Richardson to Secretary of State over Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian was a harrowing loss. Despite great efforts by many unions and community organizations, Measure 97 was defeated by a $35 million “No on 97” campaign. The loss of Measure 97 is a major setback for the UO and the public welfare of Oregonians. The state will be facing a $1.5 billion deficit, so expect some difficult budget discussions ahead. In the meantime, we are working with President Schill to make a big ask of $155 million from the legislature. In the wake of Measure 97’s defeat, we are also working in a larger coalition to find a revenue solution for the state, one that makes undertaxed, large out of state corporations pay their fair share for the public services and infrastructure they enjoy. Keep posted for opportunities to join colleagues in Salem in January-March to make the case for a corporate tax and more funding for the UO.
Like so many of our colleagues, we were stunned by Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory last week. Both his rhetoric and policy prescriptions are, in many ways, anathema to our shared values. During the campaign Trump verbally attacked immigrants, people of color, Muslims, women, the disabled, and other groups. His stated political goals include mass deportations of undocumented immigrants, and a travel ban on Muslims seeking to enter the United States. He has referred to popular social movements as terrorist organizations, and has threatened news organizations. It is not difficult to imagine how his administration will likely prove hostile to both higher education and labor.
Since the election, we have seen a troubling spate of racist threats and hate crimes across the country, including some directed at UO students. Unequivocally, hate speech and violence have no place in the civic life of our democracy or in the academic life of our university. Although we are uncertain of the challenges we will face in coming years, we know that today many of our students are experiencing real anxiety and fear about their future. One of the hallmarks of the university is that it is a place where young people can safely grow and explore intellectually, as human beings, and as citizens of the world. As faculty, we have obligations both to encourage and protect this exploration and growth. We have an obligation to work to make our university a safe space.
We applaud the University Senate resolution calling for heightened attention and deliberate action against hate speech and hate crimes arising from racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, and other bias.
To those who worry that challenging hate speech may weaken academic freedom or free speech, know that we stand firm with our commitment to both – and further, we believe the greatest threats to our speech rights are presently external to the university. We need not choose between condemning hate and supporting free speech. Hate speech and the violence it stirs is not welcome and remains antithetical to our professional mission. In the months and years ahead, we will proactively work with the University President, the University Senate, ASUO, SEIU, and the GTFF to ensure our classrooms, our campus, and our community are spaces where everyone has an equal opportunity to work, study and live without fear.