Supporters and opponents of the White House's proposed rewrite of overtime regulations are urging their members to flood the Labor Department with comments on the proposed rulemaking, hoping to sway the administration on the final version.
Labor unions and liberal groups have created websites to help members petition the administration. Business trade associations are likewise encouraging their members to weigh in individually.
While a seemingly symbolic gesture, submitting a public comment can impact the final version of a new or updated rule. Federal agencies are supposed to take the input from "interested parties" into account, and comments that skew in a different direction from the eventual rulemaking can be used in a lawsuit challenging it. Thus, whichever group succeeds in submitting the largest volume of comments can gain a slight edge in future legal fights.
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In this case, the administration has proposed to raise from $23,660 to $50,440 the minimum annual wage level a worker must make before they can be deemed "managerial" and therefore exempt from being paid overtime. The proposal was announced by the Labor Department last month, and it is accepting comments on the proposal through the end of August.
The Howard Dean-founded group Democracy for America is telling fans to "add your name today" via a website that automatically submits letters to the department. It includes the suggested submission, "I support President Obama's proposal for the Department of Labor to enact a strong overtime pay rule. I support raising the overtime pay threshold to at least $50,400 per year, and support closing loopholes so that more workers will be eligible to receive overtime pay."
The website notes, "By submitting this form, your name, address, and comments will be filed with the U.S. Department of Labor and become public record."
Organized labor groups like the AFL-CIO are directing members to websites that allow them to join petitions addressed to Labor Secretary Tom Perez that say things like, "I'm voicing my support for restoring overtime protections and giving working people a pay raise. Strengthening and expanding overtime eligibility rules is the right thing to do."
Business groups that oppose the proposed new regulation are trying not to get out-hustled. "We are definitely encouraging our members to weigh in," said Karen Harned, spokeswoman for the National Federation of Independent Business. Christin Fernandez, spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association, said, "Yes, our members will be offering comments as well."
The comment period is required as part of the Administrative Procedures Act, the 1946 law that governs federal rulemakings. The law is the reason why federal regulations don't happen with the stroke of a pen. Even activist administrations must wait months to put a new rule in place, even in cases where the rulemakings can bypass Congress.
"The administration seems to have their mind made up about the direction they want to go in (for the overtime rule) but under the Administrative Procedures Act, they have to contemplate our comments. They have to take them into account and respond to them," David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation, told the Washington Examiner earlier this month.