The Associated Press reported Jan. 5 that buried in the Labor Department's proposed new overtime regulations are detailed cost-cutting suggestions that would allow employers to avoid granting extra pay to the 1.3 million workers that the regulations are supposed to benefit.
"Hello. U.S. Labor Department. Who are you and why are you bothering us?"
"I'm a business owner and--"
"Why didn't you say so? In that case, how may I provide you with excellent customer service?"
"I was wondering about the Labor Department's proposed new overtime regulations."
"Regulations... hmmm... Sorry, I'm not following."
"You know, the regulations pertaining to low-income workers."
"Oh, them. OK, so you want to regulate your workers. Wonderful. Now for purposes of directing your call, are you looking to undermine, restrict or exploit? Or were you thinking of something sportier, such as a nice demoralization that can be presented in the form of a pep talk? Those are very popular right now. Oh, and I see that our intimidation specialist has just returned from lunch. We also have a special offer today on how to ignore or deny workers' basic needs while appealing to their patriotism. Shall I put you through?"
"No, that's not what I meant. I'm calling about regulations intended to benefit workers. Let's see, it says here that the new overtime regulations will increase wages for low-income workers by as much as $895 million."
"Will increase? Will? My, aren't we feeling sure of ourselves today."
"Anyway, I just want to make sure I'll be in compliance with those regulations, so--"
"OK, listen and listen good. You seem like a sweet person and I want to help you out with this... situation. So let's cut the crap. Capeesh?"
"Hey, I'm talkin' here. Now, you got workers and you gotta pay 'em. That's the ugly fact of the matter. Suddenly, you get this overtime proposal breathin' down your neck. Am I right or am I right? So you're feelin' worried--"
"I wouldn't say I was worried, I just--"
"Good, cause you don't gotta worry about nothin'. Just read the rest of the proposal. Go on, read it. You see that thing buried under all the fancy talk? That's called an advisory. That's where we -- the Department of Labor -- tell you -- the world of Business and Whatnot -- how you can avoid payin' overtime to low-income workers. It's all in there, the whole megillah of cost-cutting suggestions. Are you with me so far?"
"This isn't what I--"
"Try this tip, for instance. Say you don't wanna pay overtime. No problem. You cut workers' hourly wages and then you add overtime to equal the original salary. Nice, eh? Take a little off the top here. Add a little there. Bada bing bada boom. The feds are happy, you're happy, the workers are -- hey, they don't got time to stand around bein' all warm and fuzzy."
"Gee, I really just called because--"
"Or how about this little beauty? First, you call 'em in. Say, 'How you doin', how's the family, good, good.' Soften 'em up. Say, 'Tell you what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna boost your salary.' Trust me, they'll eat it up.
So you boost it -- to $22,100 annual. We're talking twenty-two thousand big ones and a little walkin' around money. Suddenly, they're livin' large. They ain't never seen so much loot. And that's when the sting goes down, see? 'Cause what they don't know is 22 grand puts 'em right over the limit. Now they can beg for all the overtime pay they want, but it's too bad -- they're ineligible. Tell 'em, 'Hey sucker, you can put in the overtime, and you will put in the overtime, but I don't got to pay you the overtime, and if you got a problem with that, perhaps you'd like to transfer to our underwater branch office -- if you catch my drift.' That usually takes care of any, uh, conflict resolution."
"Are you serious? Is the Labor Department actually stooping to telling business owners how to skirt the law? "
"Watch your mouth! I am emphatically not telling youse all how to 'do' anything. I am merely one of two gentlemen havin' a nice conversation, which, it just so happens, concerns your wish to obtain an advantageous amount of productivity whilst minimizing the need for you to, as it were, remunerate the well-known compulsion of the average employee to work him-, her- or itself to the bone. To which end, it is not, I take it, your stated desire to cough up a big hairball of overtime--"
"I never said--"
"And I, sir, am merely offering 'suggestions.' Now if you don't know what a suggestion is, I would be perfectly affable to the philosophical notion of dropping by to make its acquaintance with your miserable little Chia Pet planter of a skull."
"No, no, that's quite all right."
"Good, we understand each other. Any other questions you got some earnest need to share with me?"
"Well, I am a little confused. I mean, doesn't the mission statement of the Labor Department talk about, um, protecting the rights of workers, including their rights to overtime pay? It's just that, uh, I thought that the whole reason for the Labor Department was a half century of progressive campaigning on behalf of the hardworking American, and that the Department's very purpose, since it was established in 1913, was to 'promote the welfare of job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, [and] strengthening free collective bargaining.'"
"Oh, wise guy, eh? Hey, Fats, we got a live one here! Thinks we oughta protect the workers. Listen up, Kewpie doll. If they want protection, they can pay for protection. We're tryin' to make you a deal here."
"But aren't you making life harder for workers and their families?"
"Don't tell us about the family, we are the family, you got that? We take care of our own, and you know somethin'? I'm startin' to feel like you might not be our own. Are you, by any chance, wearin' a wire?"
"A wire? What do you mean?"
"I mean, are you wired in, findin' facts, downloadin' Chomsky, registered to vote -- that's what I mean, pal. Cause we're tryin' to help you help us, and we don't need you stirrin' up trouble over it."
"No, I was just -- what about -- aren't there any safeguards?"
"Yeah, yeah. We got your back. It may seem illegal to cut workers' pay to avoid payin' overtime, but as our broad Tammy explained -- that's Ms. Tammy McCutcheon to you, knucklehead, she's an architect of the plan -- if changes were made from week to week to avoid overtime, then, yeah, that would be illegal. However, if you do it to somebody all at once, no worries."
"But nothin'. Like the lady sez to the press, we had a lotta lawyers look at this rule. We would not've put nothin' in there if we thought it was illegal. Unless you got a contract, there is no legal rule prohibiting an employer from either raisin' your salary or cuttin' your salary. And like Tammy sez, 'We do not anticipate employers will cut people's pay.'"
"She said that? With a straight face?"
"Sure, why not, it's all just harmless information. Now, if you as a business owner decide to do somethin' with this info, that's up to you. We're clean. We got nothin' to do with it. What kind of work are you in, anyway?"
"Waste management consultant. Why?"
"I knew it! Hey, Fats, didn't I tell you this caller was a goody two-shoes?"