250,000 more Washington workers could be eligible for overtime under new plan

Sidney Kenney spent a decade as a salaried worker.

"It's hyped up as this sort of status. You're salaried now, you're indispensable now, you're so much more important," Kenney said.

What it really meant was that he worked well over 40 hours a week for the same pay.

Kenney earned less than $40,000 per year and never made time-and-a-half.

"You work 80 hours, 90 hours, 100 hours, and you realize your pay doesn't change whatsoever," Kenney said.

Right now, in Washington, employers are only required to pay overtime to salaried workers who make less than $23,660 per year.

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A new proposal released Wednesday by Gov. Jay Inslee's administration phases in a higher threshold for overtime exemption, pegged to the state's minimum wage law.

"This is a long-overdue update that will help tens of thousands of Washingtonian workers," Gov. Inslee said. "Overtime protections ensure workers are fairly compensated when they work more than 40 hours in a given week — time that would otherwise be spent with their families and in their communities. The erosion of this threshold over time has left too many workers behind."

By 2026, the threshold would be nearly $80,000.

"We believe a thriving middle class is good for business, for workers and for the economy," said Joel Sacks, director of the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.

State officials estimate 250,000 workers could benefit from the proposal when it’s fully phased in.

The Association of Washington Business criticized the plan, calling it "an astonishing increase over the current overtime rule and will likely catch many small businesses and nonprofits by surprise."

"This proposal simply goes too far and risks a variety of unintended consequence including a reduction in program offerings at nonprofits, fewer opportunities for employees to advance into salaried management positions, and reclassification of employees from salaried to hourly positions," the AWB statement read.

Comedian Trae Crowder, who calls himself the "Liberal Redneck," made a video for Civic Action supporting the plan.

Crowder called the proposal "a big damn deal."

"Washington can show the rest of the country that you actually can treat workers like human beings and still be the best state in the union to do business in," Crowder said. "Not bad for a bunch of Kombucha-drinking Patagonia vest models."

The higher overtime thresholds would begin July 1, 2020.

The phase-in would be slower for small employers with up to 50 workers.

The Department of Labor & Industries is planning public hearings on the proposal next month.

Washington's overtime rules were last updated in 1976.