CHN: Federal Judge Blocks Overtime Rule Set to Help Millions of Workers; Other Regulations May be Overturned by “Midnight Rules” Act

On November 22, a federal judge in Texas blocked overtime protections scheduled to take effect December 1. Finalized in May by the Department of Labor and seen as a top regulatory win of the Obama Administration, the overtime rule would benefit 4.2 million low- and middle-income workers who would either gain new overtime protections, get a raise to the new salary threshold, or have more free time. The updated regulations increase the salary threshold a worker must be paid before they can be considered exempt from overtime pay, from $23,660 per year to $47,476 per year. The Justice Department announced on December 1 that it will file an appeal of the judge’s order.

Republicans in Congress and new Trump Administration, however, seem bent on overturning the rule; business groups and 21 state attorneys general challenged the rule in court, which led to the recent judge’s order. While the judge’s action is only a temporary halting, it could allow for the court proceedings to drag on until after President-elect Trump’s inauguration, at which point he could drop the defense of the rule and kill the new overtime protections. Advocates like those at the National Employment Law Project said they believed that “the judge’s analysis and decision are deeply flawed and should be reversed on appeal.” For more information on the overtime rule, see the June 13 Human Needs Report and this post on CHN’s blog, Voices for Human Needs.

Even if the judge hadn’t blocked the new rule from taking effect, it was already considered part of a group of regulations targeted by Republicans in Congress and the new Trump Administration for the potential chopping block. Enacted 20 years ago with the help of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Congressional Review Act gives Congress 60 legislative days to review and override major regulations enacted by federal agencies, with only a simple majority vote in the Senate. With Congress’s schedule, this means regulations adopted since late May or early June – more than 150 rules according to the New York Times – could be potentially vulnerable. The law, if used to override regulations, also prevents agencies from enacting similar regulations again in the future unless specifically authorized by a subsequent law.

In addition, the House on November 18 passed the Midnight Rules Act (H.R. 5982), which amends the Congressional Review Act to make this overriding process easier. The Midnight Rules Act, which can only be used at the end of a President’s term, would allow Congress to override multiple regulations at once rather than considering them one at a time. Advocates fear that multiple regulations that help low-income and other disadvantaged populations, including a requirement that employees of federal contractors be allowed to earn paid sick days, consumer protections on prepaid debit cards and environmental protections could be at risk.

Labor and Employment
worker protections