The Bell Policy Center is calling on Colorado’s Republican and Democratic candidates for governor to address the outdated threshold for salaried workers to qualify for overtime pay.
Currently, only employees who earn less than $23,660 annually qualify for overtime. That’s a salary level that’s been in place since 1975 and includes only about seven percent of salaried workers in Colorado. Obama’s effort to raise it to $47,476 was blocked by the courts.
In a report released today, the Bell Policy Center points out that state governors can unilaterally set the maximum salary for overtime pay, and with the gubernatorial primary in full swing, the Bell Policy Center wants candidates to debate ways to act on the issue.
“The current overtime rules contradict the purpose of the Fair Labor Standards Act, squeeze family budgets, and limit Colorado’s overall economic growth,” says Rich Jones, director of policy and research at the Bell Policy Center, a progressive-leaning organization. “Colorado policymakers — including candidates for governor — should discuss and consider ways to update our overtime rules so hardworking Coloradans can earn their fair share.”
Increasing overtime pay is one avenue, in concert with others, to fight Colorado’s “struggle with stagnant wages and rising costs,” states the Bell Policy Center’s news release announcing its report, which calls on the gubernatorial candidates to develop economic platforms that address the problem.
Outgoing Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper hasn’t taken action on overtime pay, but at least two Democratic contenders to take his job in November say they are committed to the issue.
“The rising cost of living is making daily life unaffordable for many Colorado families, and we need bold action to ensure our Colorado quality of life is within reach for everyone. I strongly supported President Obama’s historic overtime reforms,” said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis in a statement.
“But even if Washington is moving backward, we can move forward here in Colorado,” he said. “As governor, I will be committed to ensuring that every Coloradan gets compensated for their hard work, and to bring wages in line with the rising cost of living.”
Under Obama’s salary guidelines, about a quarter million more Coloradans would have qualified for overtime pay, which could have increased mostly middle-class paychecks by over a half million dollars per week, according to the Bell Policy Center report, titled, “Modernizing Overtime Rules in Colorado.”
Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who’s a Democratic candidate for governor, also wants to update the overtime guidelines.
“Donna supports an updating of our overtime thresholds. A fair wage for all hard work ought to be the bedrock of our system,” said Michele Ames, spokesperson for Lynne for Colorado, via email. “Just so you are aware, we’ve supported revisions to the overtime threshold for quite a while in this campaign. If you are interested, you can take a look at our full thoughts in this area.
“We must do more to change the wage erosion working families have experienced for several years. Donna supports updating overtime as part of a comprehensive package that helps working families including paid family leave, paid medical leave as well as publicly administered retirement savings program for private sector employees. She will look at all the levers the governor has available to make these changes happen.”
Democratic candidate Michael Johnston said he believes Colorado workers deserve fair compensation.
“This is an important topic and one Mike cares deeply about for Colorado’s workers,” said Johnston spokeswoman Grace Hover via email. “He will review the report and give careful consideration to the recommendations, but feels strongly that employees deserve fair compensation for their work.”
Democrat Cary Kennedy didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did any of the Republican gubernatorial candidates. This post will be updated with any additional responses.
If Colorado’s current qualifying maximum salary for overtime pay were adjusted for inflation, starting from when it was established in 1975, the workers who would benefit the most include: women, Hispanics, mothers, those with some college education or aged 16-29, office and administrative employees, and those employed by the manufacturing industry, according to the Bell Policy Center report.
This post was updated with a comment from Michael Johnston.