January 15, 2020
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Why the Maine Legislature needs to fix overtime rules

Elaine Thompson | AP
Elaine Thompson | AP
Victor Duran, a co-manager of a sports apparel store at the Southcenter mall, south of Seattle, poses for a photo at the store in Tukwila, Washington, in this Dec. 11, 2019, file photo. Duran, 23, said he makes about $52,000 a year and doesn't get overtime, but is required to work at least 45 hours per week, and up to 60 during the holidays. Duran is one employee who could benefit from new overtime rules in Washington state, which will allow hundreds of thousands of workers who have been exempt to begin collecting when they work more than 40 hours per week.

There’s something powerful about creating physical objects with your own hands. At Zootility, we create multi-use pocket tools and other inspired creations using lasers and our hands. I started Zootility as a Kickstarter project seven years ago. Since then, we have grown steadily and now employ 14 people in a factory in the East Bayside neighborhood of Portland. We have skilled workers who use fiber-optic-powered lasers to create customizable wares, bringing manufacturing tech jobs to Maine.

Beyond working with our hands, we value manufacturing jobs because for decades they have been synonymous with the kind of jobs that allow workers to provide for their families and have a healthy work-life balance.

For most of the last century, good wages and overtime pay was a key standard of the American workforce. If you stayed late or worked weekends, you could expect to earn time-and-a-half pay. In the 1970s, more than 60 percent of salaried workers qualified for overtime. Unfortunately, today that number is as low as 7 percent.

Why is that? Wages have risen since the 1970s, but the income ceiling under which workers are eligible for overtime has not kept pace. That means that each year workers are working more hours for less pay. Today the average salaried worker works 49 hours per week, but only gets paid for 40 of them. Obviously this creates a disparity in work-life balance.

To make matters worse, the Trump administration recently announced that it is curtailing Obama-era rules that would have expanded overtime pay. While the Obama standard would have made salaried workers making under $51,000 eligible for overtime, the Trump standard lowers it to $35,568. President Donald Trump believes that just over $35,000 is “high-earning.” That means that an assistant manager at Burger King making $36,000 a year can be forced to work 60 hours a week for zero additional pay.

That’s why our state legislators have introduced LD 402, An Act to Restore Overtime Protections for Maine Workers, which would gradually raise the overtime threshold for salaried workers to $55,224 by 2022, nearly matching the standard that President Barack Obama proposed in 2016.

There’s a reason why the average salaried worker works one hour per day more than the average hourly worker. It’s because employers value your time when they have to pay you for it.

I can attest that having a healthy work-life balance makes my employees more productive. Studies have shown the same: productivity decreases dramatically the more you work, with those who work 70 hours per week completing the same amount of work as those work 55 hours a week.

I want my employees to come to work rested and re-energized, not exhausted and resentful that I’m making them neglect their families and work for free. While a lower overtime threshold may save money in the short term, it’s penny wise and pound foolish. If we want to grow scalable businesses and improve Maine’s economy, we need to treat our workers well.

The time you spend working takes away from the time you spend with your family, friends and community. That’s why you deserve to be compensated for it. I’m a small-business owner, but I’m also a husband and a father of two young children. I cherish the time that I have with my family, and I know that my employees do, too.

Legislators should pass LD 402 to ensure that Maine workers are being fairly compensated for their time. At the end of the day, when our workers thrive, our businesses thrive.

Nate Barr is the owner of Zootility Co. in Portland.

 



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