Posted on May 22, 2016
Tennesseans have heard a lot of talk from the Obama administration about making college affordable and keeping costs down. So, it’s hard to see how President Barack Obama can justify the final overtime rule out of his Labor Department this week that could raise annual tuition at one Tennessee college by nearly $850 per student.
One of the most radical, out-of-touch aspects of the Obama administration’s agenda has been its labor agenda, and this new overtime rule is a glaring example of why I say that. It more than doubles the salary threshold under which employees qualify for overtime pay—from $23,660 to $47,476. This is a sudden and dramatic increase that Tennessee colleges tell me may not only impact tuition, but may force them to reduce employees’ hours and even lay off employees they would like to keep but can no longer afford.
Six Tennessee colleges have estimated that the rule could increase their operating costs by over $1 million per year, and two others tell me that the rule could increase their operating costs by $800,000 per year. Three more say their operating costs could increase by more than $500,000 per year.
These Tennessee colleges don’t oppose increasing the salary threshold so more employees qualify for overtime — they think it may be time for a reasonable update — but the administration’s rule does it too high and too fast, and the results will be bad for more than just colleges and students.
According to the National Retail Federation, the proposal could result in workers having their hours and benefits cut, fewer opportunities for advancement, and less flexibility and control over their own schedules.
Imagine how discouraging this rule will be to the working mother who can no longer negotiate her schedule to work from home when she needs, or the young restaurant assistant manager who loses his title and is relegated back to an hourly job, or to the job seeker who discovers that the only jobs available are part time.
Tens of thousands of Tennesseans who today are mid-management or professional employees are not going to like it one bit when their employer tells them that under this new rule they're going to be punching the time clock when they go in and out of work. For example, college soccer or baseball coaches aren’t going to like having to clock hours and limit the time they’re able to spend building the best teams possible during their season, as could be the case under this rule.
Today almost 16 million Americans, including 320,000 Tennesseans, already have unwanted free time when they’d rather be working — they’re stuck in part-time jobs while looking for full-time work, or they have no jobs at all. Instead of making our part-time economy worse, the administration should work with Congress to pursue policies that will create an environment for better job opportunities and more workplace flexibility.
I’ve introduced legislation with Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina to ensure the administration pursues a balanced and responsible approach to updating federal overtime rules. I will also introduce a Congressional Review Act resolution of disapproval to block the administration’s final rule.
Tennessee workers, students, colleges, nonprofits and businesses deserve better than this disastrous rule that will rip the economic ladder of opportunity out from under hard-working Tennesseans, take money out of students’ pockets, and make it even harder for employers and institutions to grow and create more jobs.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is chairman of the Senate education and labor committee.
*Also ran in the Knoxville News Sentinel and the Maryville Daily Times