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U.S. Labor Secretary says new OT rule to promote equity, jobs

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, left, speaks

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, left, speaks to Bloomberg News weekend managing editor Bernie Kohn at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference in Crystal City, Va. on Friday, May 20, 2016. Credit: Newsday / James T. Madore

CRYSTAL CITY, VA. - U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on Friday criticized opponents of a more generous overtime rule issued this week, saying it would foster equity and job creation.

Perez, who was raised in upstate Buffalo, said critics of the new overtime provision, particularly colleges and retailers, have overstated the potential downside of lifting the threshold for salaried employees to be eligible for overtime pay under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

Effective Dec. 1, the threshold will go from $23,660 to $47,476.

It hadn’t been increased since 1975.

“Middle-class jobs should pay middle-class wages, and when you work extra hours you get paid extra,” Perez told a conference of business journalists meeting in suburban Washington.

He estimated that more than 4 million salaried workers would be impacted, most of them women and many with college degrees. The rule change would affect 278,000 people working in New York State, according to federal statistics.

Still, the American Council on Education, which represents college presidents, and the National Retail Federation, have said the new overtime provision would increase prices and lead to job cuts.

Council president Molly Corbett Broad said in a statement that universities would be forced into “a combination of tuition increases, service reductions and, possibly, layoffs.”

Perez disagreed forcefully on Friday at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers convention, saying many workers in higher education — professors, research assistants and administrative assistants — are exempt from overtime regulations. He said postdoctoral employees would benefit and be lifted out of “servitude.”

Perez added, “I find it ironic that some institutions of higher education, whose goal is to educate folks so that they can punch their ticket to the middle class, are objecting to our efforts to help their graduates get a middle-class wage.”

Separately, Perez said “worry” led him to intervene last week in the Verizon strike, bringing the telecommunications giant and its union back to the negotiating table.

“When I see 40,000 workers…out of work and I see a company as important as Verizon, I worry about it,” he said, recalling his reasons for having the parties meet in his Washington office, starting last Sunday. “I’m trying to help facilitate a resolution.”

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