When AFTNJ Secretary Lucye Millerand recognized that President Obama’s 2014 executive order to more than double the ceiling for overtime eligibility would mean significant changes for workers she sprang into action. Millerand spearheaded a petition and outreach campaign within her administrative staff union at Rutgers University generating over 120 comments through the Department of Labor’s public comment period.After two years of review, the Department of Labor put forth the new rule, with a salary threshold of $47,476 – double the present threshold. The final salary threshold is less than the $50,400 in the administration’s proposal last June, but twice the current level of $23,660 a year, which has been unchanged for more than a decade, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Employer groups in the non-profit and higher education sectors insisted this would do terrible damage. When the National Employment Law Project reached out to AFT to organize a briefing for Senate staff on June 30 to set the record straight, Millerand was the natural choice to speak for AFT.

Millerand addressed the misperception spread by some college presidents that overtime for staff would lead to higher tuition for students:

“I started at Rutgers in 1980, earning $8,000 a year assisting in the library’s cataloging area. I often worked overtime on Saturday mornings, and that little bump helped me pay rent and school fees as I finished my bachelor’s degree. Let’s be clear and recognize that the growth in lower and middle-level staff in higher education is the result of the split of the faculty into a well-paid full-time, tenure-track minority, and an underpaid adjunct majority who have few administrative duties.

We have already saved our universities money by turning so much of the advising, research, outreach and administrative duties over to staff. Tuition didn’t go down over the last 30 years, and it won’t go up when the cataloging assistant of today gets her four hours of overtime for working a Saturday morning.“

Higher education industry groups joined employer efforts to characterize the increase as “too high” by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources and groups like the Society for Human Resources Management continue to advocate for legislation to derail the increase.

Such efforts are historically part of employers’ efforts to suppress wages to maximize control over resources, according to Millerand who pointed to the history of the creation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to a time when employers paid workers as little as possible, many less than $1 per day.

According to Peter Cole in Time, prior to the FLSA, the United States was a nation in which workers, including children, “labored ten to 12 hours, six days a week.”

Millerand hopes the rule change will ease the ongoing battle at Rutgers University, where the school frequently refuses to pay overtime despite a contract that demands it. URA members have had to file grievances just to get their already-earned wages, she said. So far, they’ve won a total of $225,000 in back pay.

Lucye Millerand at the Dirksen Senate office building on June 30
Lucye Millerand at the Dirksen Senate office building on June 30

AFTNJ Members’ Comments to DOL
We need this badly. I need this badly. Currently, I’m considered NL (exempt from overtime) and that means I’m expected to answer every after hours business e-mail or call from someone in administration or even an applicant. Including working weekend events or generating data for reports on weekends or late night afterhours.
50k is still not enough.

It’s important to adopt a minimum salary of $1,000 per week to be on par with the economy and the regions where most of us live and work.

The threshold has not kept up with inflation. And, like everything else, it should.

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