Will Librarians Win in Overtime . . . Rulemaking?

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Photo credit: Bill Brooks

In an effort to potentially raise the wages of more than 10 million Americans, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has proposed changes to current rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act that govern when and to whom employers must pay overtime for work weeks longer than 40 hours. Under the current rule, which has been revised just twice in the past 40 years, professional workers of many kinds with salaries (not merely total income) of more than $23,660 annually are “exempt” from the overtime pay requirements.

Under the new rule proposed on July 6, 2015 now open for public comment, most professional workers would still fail to qualify for overtime based on the nature of their duties, but – were the rule to go into effect as drafted – any salaried librarian earning less than about $50,440 in 2016 would become newly eligible for overtime. Though not scientifically collected, ALA-APA Salary data anecdotally suggest that many salaried professional librarians could become eligible for overtime under the new rule . . . if and when they worked more than 40 hours per week, that is.

The proposed rule change thus could bring good financial news to some library professionals (and other non-salaried library workers). However, it also theoretically could pose special difficulties for smaller libraries and library systems that employ just one or a few professionals who typically log more than 40 hours per week to keep their facilities accessible to the public. Faced with a choice of required extra pay or fewer hours, an unknown number of systems might need to opt for less service in order to stay within small, inflexible budgets.

These and other complications the new rule could create for non-profit organizations, coupled with strong opposition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many other businesses and their trade associations, made the DOL’s proposed new overtime rules immediately controversial. In addition, key Congressional leaders like Senate “HELP” Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and House Education & the Workforce Chair John Kline (R-MN2) both have publicly opposed the proposed rule changes.  Meanwhile, more than 140 Democratic Members of the Senate and House recently cheered them in an unusual joint letter to the President. It is unclear whether some in Congress would attempt to block the new rules from taking effect if they ultimately are adopted after the Department of Labor concludes its rulemaking proceeding.

Initial comments on the proposed rule changes currently are due on September 4, 2015.  Hundreds of requests for an extension of that deadline, however, have been filed already. ALA headquarters and the Washington Office are closely tracking the matter. Stay tuned….

Additional Resources

Department of Labor’s FAQ and separate Fact Sheet on the proposed rule
National Law Review article (July 2015) about the rulemaking
DoL Fact Sheet on the Fair Labor Standards Act’s current overtime exemption for professionals

About Adam Eisgrau

Adam Eisgrau is a 30-year veteran of Washington legal practice, government service, public and private sector lobbying, and strategic communications and policy consulting. Adam first handled digital copyright matters for ALA from 1995 to 1999 and rejoined the Washington Office in September 2014 as managing director of the Office of Government Relations. His issue portfolio includes copyright, privacy and surveillance, cybersecurity, encryption and data security. Adam received a BA in American Studies from Dartmouth College and his JD from Harvard Law.

2 comments

  1. I don’t see the controversy. Pay library employees a fair and legal wage and let the electorate decide what level of service they’re willing to pay for.

  2. Amen to what Bruno Valantinas posted. Most of the small libraries they are worried about can’t afford ALA accredited professional librarians and are paying paltry salaries to paraprofessionals who are underpaid as it is, they don’t need to dilute their income more by working overtime.

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