Dave Richards' Weekly Column in The Woonsocket Call

Dave Richards for October 25th…………

--It’s less than a week away from Halloween, and there are some scary things afoot for most of us.

No, I’m not thinking about the presidential election, though that might qualify as scary to some, or the so-called “Scary Clown” silliness which is causing alarm to some. I am referring to the U.S. Department of Labor’s new Wage and Hour regulations regarding the payment of overtime to employees.

I simply don’t have the space in my weekly column to examine this issue as it should be, so I’ll just try to skim the surface and make one point.

To put it as simply as I can, if you are presently working on a salaried basis and your salary isn’t at least $47,476 per year, your salary will need to be raised to this level or you will become, by law, an hourly employee, complete with the time clock and negotiating for time off to take care of your sick kids or to go to the doctor yourself. For many good workers who love their jobs and what they do, this will be intolerable. They value being treated as an adult, given a clear task to perform, and being given the freedom to decide how they get the results which are required.

I’m sure the idea behind this federal change in labor laws was inspired by the same idea which spawned the numerous increases in the minimum wage paid which were passed earlier. If the government mandates that everybody gets paid more, it’s good for the government because they’ll get more taxes from more income and great for people not making much money because they’ll be paid more for less work. However, as the deadline draws near I hear the opposite from cash-strapped employers.

There is a group of people in this country that think that just because someone owns or runs a business and employs people that they are rich and greedy and make a practice of abusing their workers. There may be some people like that. Come to think of it I worked for one once, but the majority of employers are not like that. They value their workers and pay as well as they can afford to while still keeping prices to the consumer as low as possible.

It takes little imagination to understand that if there is a set amount of money available to pay workers and the government now mandates you pay more to each, that you will only be able to afford to pay fewer employees or for fewer hours for your employees. This will not be good for the workers, nor will it improve customer service or the prices customers will pay. It is the kind of circumstance which spurs mechanical automation. So that same amount of imagination you had in the beginning of this paragraph will help you see the downside and unintended consequences of this new law.

The U.S. House of Representatives successfully passed a measure which would have delayed the implementation of this for six months, giving time for perhaps additional legislation which might have moderated the effect. Both our Rhode Island congressmen voted for it. Unfortunately, a check last week with Senators Reed and Whitehouse revealed that the senate bill, instead of trying to delay it for further review, was designed to abolish it, and that measure went down to defeat. Both senators told me that they never got the chance to support the House measure and further that in a lame-duck session there is no real chance at all that they’ll get another opportunity before the regulation takes effect on December 1st.

Employers I have spoken with just shake their heads in disbelief at what they will be forced to do to make the books balance. Many have already put their salaried workers on an hourly basis and have prohibited overtime without managerial permission. Others have taken the amount of the employees’ previous annual salary, divided that 52 weeks and then further divided that and declared that the employee must now work 48 hours a week to get that same amount of money. Yes, they’ll be paid time and a half for the 8 hours a week over forty hours, but the amount will be the same as the original salary for 48 hours work. If the employee doesn’t work 48 hours, they’ll actually be paid less. Still others say they’re raising the salary of a few of their employees above the new threshold and giving them the duties of several coworkers who will then lose their jobs altogether.

There’s so much more I could say on this subject, after my meetings last week with fellow broadcasters and all four members of the Rhode Island Congressional Delegation. It all adds up to a difficult period of change for employers and employees alike. A few will win. Many, many will lose. And this is where my attempt at logical analysis will end today.

Here is my subjective opinion on the matter. Adopting the “Robin Hood-like” public position that you’ll “stick it to the rich” plays well at the polls, since there are so few really rich people to do you any political damage in the voting booth. However, as we have seen over and over again, the ones who ultimately pay the price of careless law making and electoral pandering are the ones who can least afford it. We pray for them.

--That’s what I think. What do you think? Comments to: dave@onworldwide.com or postal mail to Dave Richards, WOON Radio, 985 Park Avenue, Woonsocket, RI 02895-6332. Thanks for reading.


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