Sen. Tom Harkin
Sen. Tom Harkin
April 3, 2014

President Barack Obama's executive order expanding overtime-pay eligibility for salaried employees - as much as 88 percent of the total non-clock-punching workforce by some estimates - is a major move for the middle and working classes, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin says.

"He should get some credit for it because he's taken some bold action in the face of inaction by the Congress," Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, said of Obama's recent order.

As it stands, salaried employees who earn at least $455 a week - about $24,000 a year - are not guaranteed overtime pay (time and a half). Obama's order does not set a new salary threshold for overtime. It calls on the U.S. Department of Labor to develop those figures as part of an overtime-pay expansion plan.

"I'm pleased that President Obama is now sticking up for our low-income workers and making sure they get their fair pay," Harkin said in response to questions during a conference call with The Daily Times Herald and other media.

Under the current federal rules, Harkin said, workers who should be getting paid overtime can be reclassified and forced to work longer hours with no pay through what is commonly known as the white-collar exemption. It's generally established based on whether the employee spends any time supervising other people.

"For example, a store manager, at a dollar store, earning $25,000 could be ineligible for the overtime, no matter how many hours they work," Harkin said.

Harkin said too many employers are classifying employees as store or night-shift managers.

"They're making $25,000 a year and they're putting in 50, 55 hours a week, and getting no overtime," Harkin said. "It's really an abuse."

Harkin said he supports more than doubling the overtime threshold.

He would set the figure at $54,000, phasing it up to that level "over a few years." If a salaried employee earns below that, he or she would be eligible for overtime pay, Harkin said.

On another labor issue, Harkin has been a leading legislative force for increasing the minimum wage. Harkin's plan, endorsed by the president and being debated at the state level as well, calls for an increase from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour.