Listen To You Tell Me Texas Friday 3/14/14
“Be the first one to get there and the last one to leave.” So advised my father when I, still in my teens, began to enter the workforce.
My dad’s admonition was based on a simple truth. A willingness to work hard can separate you from the pack. The market for labor is no different than the market for cell phones, cable TV or fast food. The money flows toward the best value for the dollar. Most employers reward the most productive workers and the most productive workers are almost always the ones that work the hardest.
Generally speaking, anyone who succeeds at anything puts in long hours. But as I look back on my working life, I realize that I put in the longest hours in the years when I was paid the least. Such is what we used to call, ‘paying your dues.’
This recollection comes to mind as we learn that President Obama, by executive order (again), is directing the Labor Department to more stringently interpret and enforce federal law and regulations concerning overtime pay. Says a White House spokesman, “We need to fix the system so folks working hard are getting compensated fairly.”
My question is, who gets to say what’s fair? There’s more to having a job than just the paycheck. In my mind, fair is defined as ‘I’m willing to work for what I am being paid and if I feel myself underpaid, I can test that belief by looking for a better situation elsewhere.’
Most wage and hour laws are now little more than anachronisms. The time of their necessity has long passed. I concede the possibility that an employer might make an unreasonable demand of an employee, insisting on abusively long hours as a basic condition of employment. But most such employers don’t last very long. Good people are hard to find. Treat them badly, and they will find a better employer. Businesses that can’t retain good workers seldom survive.
The president’s high-sounding rhetoric notwithstanding, the real effect of his order is to again put employers in a defensive position vis. a. vis. their employees (something the never-had-a-job-in-the-real-world-faculty lounge ex-pats currently running the administration can never possibly understand). One certain effect will be that many businesses will begin aggressively shooing ambitious employees who fall under the expanded regs out the door when the five o’clock whistle blows. No prudent business owner is going to countenance a time bomb in the form of an employee who falls out of favor demanding after-the-fact “overtime” that he was, prior to his disaffection, willing to forego.
Like most (nominally) well-intentioned labor regulation, (e.g. minimum wage), the negative effect of tightening the rules regarding overtime pay will fall disproportionately on the very workers that are supposedly being helped.
It will fall upon the up and comers, the self-starters, the hungry and the ambitious. It will cause entry-level managers and supervisors to lose the opportunity to gain valuable experience while demonstrating their willingness to put forth a stand-out effort.
In other words, the president’s latest order will again be one that is antithetical to opportunity, growth and upward mobility – the very things that have been in cruelly short supply for five long years now.