You may have missed it, but a few weeks ago a federal judge in Texas struck down an overtime pay rule laid down by the Department of Labor in the final months of the Obama administration that would have forced companies to pay billions in new wages for existing employees and current levels of work.
U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant found invalid a rule that would have extended time-and-a-half overtime pay to all workers earning less than $47,476. Currently the law mandates overtime for workers making less than $23,660. All workers in that pay range, 23k to 47k, would have been affected.
As I say, you may have missed it because it received only back-page coverage in the news, which surprised me because this rule would have a profound effect, even in very small businesses like the one I work for. Our little outfit would lose tens and maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars in new payroll costs.
I keep a pretty close eye on the books here; I’m not sure where that money would come from. No doubt there are plenty of pool and spa companies that would be in the same boat.
We won’t have to worry about that for the moment, but this whole Labor Department saga has raised a thorny issue for people in the trade media:
How do we cover regulation that is likely to be struck down or changed significantly before it ever takes effect?
We watched this Labor Department rule from its inception. It was formally announced as “law,” theoretically, in 2016, with an implementation date of Dec. 1. We covered it but didn’t give it the full town crier treatment because we knew there would be stays and injunctions, and president-elect Trump was due to take office and we figured he’d change it — which is still the likeliest outcome after the courts get done with it.
But this is now the de facto process of producing the laws that govern the country. Laws are still made the traditional way — they are passed by legislatures, ordained by state and federal departments, signed by presidents — but that’s only the beginning. They face an inevitable period of court challenge and possible reversal by the next regime. Only if they survive that do we have to consider them.
So when do we start to take them seriously? And when should the trade press start to report them seriously?
I have watched the new DOE pump rules with the same dubious eye — I can’t help it. Under this law, as it currently stands and is interpreted, you essentially won’t be able to buy a single-speed inground pool pump anywhere in the United States of America for love or money after July 2021. That’s a strong statement; a real change for service companies and retailers. Even for some builders.
But of course that depends on the rule surviving years of challenges and the whims of the current administration and possibly another one in 2020.
When do we start to believe?