Texas lawsuit against federal overtime rules is unwarranted

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Recently, our state joined 20 other states — primarily Republican ones — in suing the U.S. Department of Labor for overtime laws that are set to be enforced Dec. 1. The new laws would enforce overtime payment to workers making $47,476 or less a year and affect 4.2 million eligible Americans — unless employers can prove that their job positions are of “executive, administrative, or professional” capacity, known as the “duties test”.

There is no reason why our state should be part of this lawsuit. These overtime laws would extend protections to an additional 5.6 percent of the Texas workforce, benefit and protect all Texas workers working over 40 hours and incentivize employers to either raise wages past the income threshold, give more time off or simply pay what these workers are already entitled.

But our Attorney General Ken Paxton argues otherwise in that such overtime laws “may lead to disastrous consequences for our economy” and are part of President Obama’s “radical leftist political agenda.”

In the legal complaint Paxton helped file, the main arguments are the inadequacy of the “duties test,” an indiscriminate policy that increases the income threshold every three years to balance inflation and the strain on state budgets. However, for Texas, such complaints are either irrelevant or unsubstantial.

First, the “duties test”, a test exempting employers from paying employees overtime who are in “executive, administrative, or professional” positions, has been accused as inadequate. However, the test itself has remained unchanged since 2004 laws, meaning employers’ abilities to vet employees for overtime exemption have also remained unchanged. This makes the lawsuit’s position seem dishonest because if the “duties test” is such a problem now, why didn’t Texas and the other plaintiffs sue the Department of Labor back in 2004 over this?

Second, the increased income threshold every three years, which forces our state government and employers to raise and pay more wages to adjust for inflation, is to some degree a valid complaint. We don’t know within three years whether our economy will be doing well or not, or whether certain Texas businesses can afford increased overtime pay. To the Department of Labor’s detriment, the overtime laws do not currently state in hard numbers what the income increase may be.

But, according to current Department’s projections of the laws’ economic impact, U.S. payroll costs will only grow one-tenth of 1 percent per year and it “will not have a disruptive effect on the broader economy.” Therefore, Texas and other plaintiffs would have better judgment if they were to wait for actual figure increases from the Department before exclaiming economic woes and litigation.

Third, in Section D of the lawsuit, there are various states citing the strain on their state budgets, but Texas is not one of them. In the very complaint that Paxton co-authored, there is zero mention of how our state budget would be directly harmed. Even in Paxton’s office press release of the complaint, there was no mention of this particular harm.

Indeed, it may be that all radical leftist political agendas are inherently harmful to our state. But why would Texas want to deny eligible overtime workers their justified compensation?

This misguided notion was partially revealed during the Texas Tribune Festival, when state Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, supported the lawsuit and said “the market should be allowed to work” and that the federal government has “no business” in offering such protections to overtime workers.

This direct onslaught on working-class Texans is shameful, and the fears that it projects are fallacious. In this state, we should defend fellow citizens who work so hard and in return receive unfair pay. We must repudiate lawsuits that seek to maintain such workers in the wage conditions of 2004.

Zhao is a history and corporate communications junior from Shanghai, China. Follow him on Twitter @_AlbertZhao