A prosperous New Jersey depends on the livelihood of all our workers. In fact, the state economy benefits most when workers are able to earn fair pay for all the hours they work while balancing employment responsibilities with family obligations. However, millions of people across the nation, including hundreds of thousands in New Jersey, are not covered by overtime protections and risk being exploited for their time.[i] This is a direct result of federal overtime laws that have eroded over time—and the lack of a strong state overtime law—where far too many workers are exempt from the right to earn time-and-a-half when they work over 40 hours a week.
Currently, some salaried white-collar workers who earn more than $23,660 a year can be legally denied overtime pay. These exempted workers (1) are considered “highly compensated,” earning at least $455 per week ($23,660 per year), (2) have primary office or non-manual duties, and (3) pass the “duties test,” a complicated test of employees’ tasks and responsibilities that establish them as a bona fide executive, manager, or highly trained professional.[ii] The federal overtime salary threshold for these exempted workers will increase to $35,568 in 2020, but this still falls significantly short of historical standards.
In many ways, Americans have been given a gift for the last decade – an economic expansion unprecedented in its length. And many of the indicators of the expansion are quite strong: Unemployment levels are very low, particularly for those with college degrees. The nation continues to add jobs each month, though Ohio cannot consistently say the same. And the economy is growing each quarter.
But by other measures, we are far behind previous economic peaks. At this point in the business cycle, labor market participation (the share of those either working or seeking work) should be higher than ever – it is instead lower than in all but one of the last 40 years. After so many years of growth, median wages should be at an all-time high – they are instead lower than they were in 1979, when workers were much less educated and our economy was much less productive. And at this point in the cycle, our elected officials should have used the boom years to be ready for the inevitable bust, by investing in essentials that benefit us all long term. Instead, nationally and in Ohio, policymakers have neglected critical needs, leaving us less equipped to face any looming downturn.
Labor unions are a time-tested way for workers to organize and negotiate collectively for higher wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions.
By advocating for better conditions in their own workplaces, unions also set standards for workers throughout the country. While union membership has declined since the 1960s, unions are still key to building a stronger, fairer economy for working Americans.
Op-Ed: “The longest economic recovery on record and a state unemployment rate of 4.3% sounds like a strong foundation for Kentuckians’ prosperity. But a close look at the numbers this Labor Day shows an economy in which many Kentucky communities still lack jobs, especially quality jobs families need to thrive.”