The Trump administration said in a Texas court filing that it would rewrite an Obama-era rulemaking that dramatically expanded the number of workers covered by federal overtime rules, the latest example of the administration rolling back rules put in place by the previous White House.
Under former President Barack Obama, the Labor Department last year doubled to $47,000 the minimum annual salary threshold a worker must make before he or she can be deemed a "managerial" worker and therefore exempt from federal law requiring that they are paid time and a half after working 40 hours in a week. Business groups sued to overturn the rule, which they said raised the rate far too much. A Texas court struck it down on procedural grounds late last year. The Obama administration swiftly appealed but was unable to resolve the issue before the new administration took over.
That put the legal defense of the rule in the hands of the Trump administration, raising the question of what it would do. During his Senate confirmation hearing in May, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said the overtime rule was due for an update but the Obama administration had raised the minimum too high.
That's precisely what Justice Department lawyers argued in a court filing Friday. They defended the prior administration from charges that it violated the Administrative Procedures Act, which covers federal rulemakings, but also said the current administration would rethink the rule.
"The department has decided not to advocate for the specific salary level ($913 per week) set in the final rule at this time and intends to undertake further rulemaking to determine what the salary level should be. Accordingly, the department requests that this court address only the threshold legal question of the department's statutory authority to set a salary level," the lawyers stated. Restarting the public question process is a prerequisite before the department can overturn it and establish a new threshold.
The Justice Department did not indicate what the administration thought the new level would be.
Business groups applauded the move. "It's great to see a Department of Labor finally taking the time to fully evaluate the impact its regulations will have on businesses. Secretary Acosta has once again proven he is a thoughtful leader who will work in the best interest of the American worker," said Angelo Amador, executive director of the Restaurant Law Center, part of the National Restaurant Association.
Supporters of the Obama rule said the Trump White House should leave well enough alone. "I am deeply disappointed by the Department of Labor's refusal to defend the threshold set by the Obama administration, which would have protected 13 million middle-class workers. The overtime salary threshold has been so low – for so long – that most employees are not even aware that they're losing out on the pay or the time with their families they have earned," said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif.