Overtime, Stock, And The Dwindling Middle Class
November 19, 2014 12:27 PM   Subscribe

And it turns out that fair overtime standards are to the middle class what the minimum wage is to low-income workers: not everything, but an indispensable labor protection that is absolutely essential to creating a broad and thriving middle class. Seattle entrepreneur Nick Hanauer (previously) discusses how unpaid overtime is choking the middle class, the shell game of stock buybacks, and what the Administration could do unilaterally to fix things.
posted by NoxAeternum (51 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
o many of you would be unlikely to see much of an immediate bump in take-home pay. Instead, we capitalists would be forced to hire millions more people to do the work you currently do for free. That would drive down unemployment. And a tighter labor market would drive up wages for the first time in 40 years.

Orrrrrr employers would just wind up capping people's work at 40 hours while expecting them to do the same amount of work, and then when workers wind up doing all that work in their "personal" time the bosses will throw up their hands and say "hey, not my fault s/he can't get the work done in 40 hours, and what my workers do when off the clock is their business".

This is a real problem, but it defies pithy solutions. The changes the article suggests are way better than nothing, but they're not a fix. Honestly, I don't know what is.
posted by Itaxpica at 12:53 PM on November 19, 2014 [8 favorites]


I am somewhat suspicious of "Obama waves a magic wand and then everything is fixed" as a solution to anything - both the availability of the wand and the surety of the fix usually end up somewhat suspect.

But yeah, working over 40 hours is bullshit for chumps. And those shares or whatever will usually turn out to be garbage and a con.
posted by Artw at 12:57 PM on November 19, 2014 [9 favorites]


Here's a good bit:
The twisted irony is, when you work more hours for less pay, you hurt not only yourself, you hurt the real economy by depressing wages, increasing unemployment and reducing demand and innovation.
I know quite a few people who brag/whine about the extra time they put in. Enemies of the workers, I say.
posted by No Robots at 12:59 PM on November 19, 2014 [54 favorites]


I was trying to point this out to a friend during a (heated) discussion of unions and their place in the modern, professional workplace. Friends contention is: "If you are a professional, and have transferrable skills, then choose to work another place - one that doesn't require 60-hr work weeks. If you're in a profession that requires it, and you don't like it - retrain, or find a different line of work."
I did not have a ready reply, except to say that there are no easy answers...
posted by dbmcd at 1:03 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I did not have a ready reply, except to say that there are no easy answers...

That's usually when I get Socratic on people - "okay, so how do you pay your bills during the years that you are retraining?"

"Train after hours."

"You mean in the time that I don't have because I'm being forced to work overtime?"

"....uh...."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:09 PM on November 19, 2014 [65 favorites]


My reply is that I ask for an honest day's wages for an honest day's work, and wage theft violates the first part. I'd also point out that The Mythical Man-Month is half a century old now, and points out that there are very few jobs that genuinely require overtime.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:10 PM on November 19, 2014 [16 favorites]


I did not have a ready reply

"Why are you such a dick?"
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:10 PM on November 19, 2014 [54 favorites]


I work as a salaried engineer at a firm that pays overtime over 40hrs. It's straight time and you have to negotiate it with your manager (e.g. they can say no if you're working OT to fix something that you fucked up in the first place), but it's certainly better than nothing. I generally work 50-55 hrs a week and that OT adds up. I've interviewed at a few other "large technology corporations" and have been offered higher salaries, but when I ask about their OT policy, they all look at me like I'm high. So I stay put.
posted by dudemanlives at 1:16 PM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


I did not have a ready reply, except to say that there are no easy answers...

This sort of thing comes up in discussions of no-smoking-in-bars laws, when I point out that while the person I'm speaking with likes having a cigarette with a beer, that shouldn't mean that the waitstaff should have to spend 40(-plus) hours a week in a cloud of secondhand smoke for their entire working lives.
"Well, they should get another job, then!"
"Quit your job today, go into another line of work, and see how much time and effort and money it takes to get this magical 'another job' that's just waiting out there."
posted by Etrigan at 1:22 PM on November 19, 2014 [15 favorites]


"Oh, get a job!"
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:24 PM on November 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


Yes, this is all really, really awful and frustrating. I am pretty smart, I work very hard, and I LIKE to work! I want a job! I went to a good university, I graduated with honors, got a Master's degree, worked for a few years, wanted to change fields, got a certificate in something else by working on weekends, have great references, and seriously no idea how to get a job. I want to work! I want to work hard! I want to look at spreadsheets and analyze data and proofread reports and be busy! I also want to make a decent (not obscene, although I wouldn't turn it down) amount of money and not have to work every weekend (some weekends would be fine). Instead, many of my friends who have better jobs are overworked and many of us are un- or underemployed. My friend shouldn't have to go in both days every weekend for months at a time and I shouldn't be stuck in crummy temp jobs feeling more and more worthless and increasingly incapable of finding a life that doesn't leave me both poor and miserable.

There's enough work, there just aren't enough JOBS, so everyone ends up in a shitty situation.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:32 PM on November 19, 2014 [54 favorites]


Employers would just wind up capping people's work at 40 hours while expecting them to do the same amount of work, and then when workers wind up doing all that work in their "personal" time the bosses will throw up their hands and say "hey, not my fault s/he can't get the work done in 40 hours, and what my workers do when off the clock is their business."

Just keep a massive reel-to-reel recorder on your desk and switch it on whenever your boss rolls up at 4:50 on a Friday.

"Gee, boss - it sounds like you're asking me to work overtime. Are you asking me to work overtime?"

"I'm just asking you to keep up with the rest of the team."

"But I worked a square 40 hours this week. And hour for hour, I produced as much as any of my teammates." [waggle detailed chart] "Maybe I'm crazy, but it really sounds like you're asking me to work overt-"

"No, not in so many words, but-"

"Grrrrrrreat! See you Monday!"

You'd last maybe three weeks (three days, in at-will employment state), but I imagine it would be worth it.
posted by Iridic at 1:51 PM on November 19, 2014 [10 favorites]


I did not have a ready reply, except to say that there are no easy answers...

"Why did you leave your previous position?"

"They wouldn't pay overtime, as they are legally req...."

"We'll be in touch."

/crickets
posted by rtha at 2:01 PM on November 19, 2014 [22 favorites]


Here's the problem. In some fields, it is literally impossible for you not to work overtime, and they never pay you for it. If you raise a fuss about it, they will fire you, and hire someone who won't raise a fuss. So what's the point in dying on that hill?

I think of overtime like lawyers bill. If my boss calls me at 6PM or 7AM and has an expectation that I'll pick up the damn phone? That's overtime. If my boss calls me on my lunch break and has an expectation that I'll pick up the phone? That's not a lunch break. I am working or being expected to work.

Now try finding an employer in certain fields that doesn't expect they can call you at home to ask you about stuff.
posted by corb at 2:05 PM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


I mean, the article talks about mandatory overtime only kicking in at $23K, but the problem is that people aren't even getting paid normal hourly wages for what is effectively overtime. Yet they're not being treated fully as salaried either - having wages withheld if they don't work exactly 40 hours or more a week.
posted by corb at 2:09 PM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


There's enough work, there just aren't enough JOBS, so everyone ends up in a shitty situation.

There's enough money to pay for those jobs, too, it's just not making its way down.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:27 PM on November 19, 2014 [19 favorites]


Overtime is what I loved about contract work. I'd be at a high-tech firm, doing the same job as regular employees, but I'd actually be making more take-home pay than them (yeah, no benefits, it wasn't perfect, but I was young).

But yeah, if overtime applied to everyone either there would be a ton of folks making a lot more money, or everyone would have a better work-life balance.
posted by el io at 2:29 PM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't care about making more money, I just don't want to work the hours. I guess I'm one o' them there undeserving poor (cause I sure ain't rich).
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:38 PM on November 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


Crazy people, expecting overtime! Let's hear it for the oligarchy!
posted by BlueHorse at 2:42 PM on November 19, 2014


At least in California, overtime for non-management* personnel is mandatory.

* the definition can get a bit wiggly, of course.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:42 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Hard to see what can be done that would approach undoing what the ACA did, which is create a massive incentive for "full time" work to mean 60 hour weeks with no overtime and ten hours of that unpaid ... by way of having two 25-hour-per-week jobs and ten hours a week of dead time managing the schedule between them.
posted by MattD at 2:49 PM on November 19, 2014


I'd settle for state Wage and Hour boards actually investigating and prosecuting employers for FLSA violations. Also perhaps start requiring some training to obtain a business license. So many business owners and mangers have no idea what's actually allowed by law, e.g. in most common circumstances, you can't charge minimum-wage employees for a mandatory uniform [PDF].
posted by ob1quixote at 2:49 PM on November 19, 2014 [12 favorites]


I 'work' unpaid overtime all the time, but I also slack off on metafilter a lot while on the clock so it kinda balances out.
posted by empath at 2:51 PM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


Hard to see what can be done that would approach undoing what the ACA did, which is create a massive incentive for "full time" work to mean 60 hour weeks with no overtime and ten hours of that unpaid ... by way of having two 25-hour-per-week jobs and ten hours a week of dead time managing the schedule between them.

Right, right. As opposed to the utopia that the American workplace used to be. Thanks, Obama.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:56 PM on November 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


I'm still stuck on maximum wage being the solution to most of this stuff. If the money can't go out the top (and creative attempts at such get one serious jail time for undermining social stability) then my hope is that it would go down towards better pay and more positions opening up. Positions that had closed in an effort to make more profit for the company and funnel more money upwards to begin with.
posted by Slackermagee at 3:02 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


The culture of work in America is just so gross and all pervasive. You know what I don't do? I don't work my ass off. My ass is staying right where it belongs, which is on, son.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 3:03 PM on November 19, 2014 [20 favorites]


At least in California, overtime for non-management* personnel is mandatory.

* the definition can get a bit wiggly, of course.


No one I've talked to ever seems to know this is the case, this is violated constantly, at least in the engineering field.
posted by JauntyFedora at 3:04 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am thankful every day that my job is classified as non-exempt. I was on a call where someone asked why we had created so many non-exempt jobs, specifically "what was in it for the company?" Um, not violating the law, perhaps?
posted by soelo at 3:19 PM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


I read it in a comment on MetaFilter a few months ago. Paraphrasing and not attributing it to its author:

"You people who complain about the 9 to 5 er's ARE the problem. Every hour you give away devalues everyone's hours."

I'm personally taking the only route I can: going independent. I've given enough time away over the years that, had I been fairly paid for that time, my student loans would be gone.
posted by yesster at 3:20 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I 'work' unpaid overtime all the time, but I also slack off on metafilter a lot while on the clock so it kinda balances out.

"You just go in every day, and do it really half assed. That's the American way." - Homer Simpson
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:24 PM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


My job has its issues, but one thing that's all but guaranteed is a 40-hour week (actually 80 hours biweekly, but let's not split hairs). Long flight for a business trip? Take Friday off. Late night call with another time zone? Come in late the next morning. Once your 40 is up, you go home. This is considered completely normal and healthy and I have never once heard a manager complain that people weren't working beyond 40 hours.

I had a call with a recruiter a few weeks ago for a position at a fairly sexy company, probably very interesting work - but she described it as "start-up culture" (with over 3,000 employees!), average work week between 50-60 hours, and they pay less than industry average. "But we make up for it with stock!" Stock in a private company is good for one thing, in my opinion, and it ain't making money.

We're hiring!
posted by backseatpilot at 3:28 PM on November 19, 2014 [14 favorites]


There's enough work, there just aren't enough JOBS, so everyone ends up in a shitty situation.

Well, except the Capitalists.

I swear, we spent the first 300 years of the Modern Age throwing off the yoke of the Lords, you think we would have the process down by now....
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:31 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


This was a great article. This is an issue everybody should be mad about... I think people haven't realized that we don't live in a middle-class country any more.

Plus, mandatory overtime just sucks for everyone. It ruins your life, plus it does not actually do what management thinks it does. You don't get 150% of the work by making people work 60 hours. You get maybe 90%.
posted by zompist at 4:44 PM on November 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


I 'work' unpaid overtime all the time, but I also slack off on metafilter a lot while on the clock so it kinda balances out.

The thing is the slacking has been part of the program the whole time. They might not have done it on metafilter back in the '70s but it did happen. Up to a point, you're probably more productive because of the slacking (there was a thread sort of about this not long ago no?). But the point is, I doubt that you're slacking more than your 1975 equivalent but you are working more overtime.
posted by VTX at 4:46 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Remember all those 1960s songs that depicted 9-5 work as all drudgery and conformity? Think of "It's a five o'clock world when the whistle blows. No one owns a piece of my time." (The Vogues, Five o'Clock World) or "And he goes to work at nine, and he comes back home at five-thirty, takes the same train every time." (The Kinks, Well-Respected Man) or "But the last thing I'll ever do to prove that I'm a man like you is to work from 9 to 5 tryin' to keep myself alive and have to listen every day to everybody's jive." (The Leaves, Too Many People). The American labor market has devolved to such a point that white-collar workers would be rejoicing for a position that offers such a work/life balance.
posted by jonp72 at 4:48 PM on November 19, 2014 [8 favorites]


Yeah, me and "start up culture" stopped working out for each other around about the time I had kids.

In fact "do many people have kids here" is a good cultural fit question. "Do they actually see them?" is maybe too pointed for a follow up.
posted by Artw at 5:18 PM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


I have been wondering where 9 to 5 went my whole working life. It can't be straight up mythology, can it?

I worked a lot of hours at jobs I loved because I loved the work. Looking back, I got very little in return, learned more than my 40 hour only counterparts, but only just. And I often wonder if it really even mattered. I think about all that time I lost and what I could have done instead.

But I'm not working now for reasons, and that's the only reason why I noticed. When I was in the grind, it felt natural. Had I not had to stop working all together, I don't know I would have reflected on it like I did. Sure, a few shitty jobs or bosses demanded overtime which got me in my "youthful salary is slavery" mantra. But suddenly I was working at jobs I loved, and it was hard to not work those extra hours.

I am certain that is at least part of the equation. But that doesn't meant it's healthy or a good thing. All you're doing is making someone else rich.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:26 PM on November 19, 2014


I work in the tech industry. We are expected to be in the office 9 hours a day, with an hour for lunch, or eat at your desk and take a few Facebook / Metafilter breaks during the day, or whatever. We don't get called at night or on the weekends, and we keep a keg of craft beer in the office. This thread is a nice reminder of how good I've got it.
posted by COD at 5:36 PM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm ashamed to say I spent the first 30 years of my working life living for the job. Nights (many overnighters), weekends, holidays. But I finally came to a point where I just STOP, NO MORE! I got a job where I work a straight 40 hours and then put the job away and go home.

OK, granted, I still schedule my vacation days around peak work times. But, in return, I allow myself "mental health days" every now and then. I sit and read a book and let the phone ring uselessly.
posted by SPrintF at 6:02 PM on November 19, 2014


Hard to see what can be done that would approach undoing what the ACA did, which is create a massive incentive for "full time" work to mean 60 hour weeks with no overtime and ten hours of that unpaid ... by way of having two 25-hour-per-week jobs and ten hours a week of dead time managing the schedule between them.

Maybe this changed the equation in some red states where there were no regulations, but this "incentive" already existed in most places across the country. "We'll just cut everyone to part time" was the same thing has Papa John's saying they're going to raise prices because of it. Political bullshit.
posted by spaltavian at 6:31 PM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


Itaxpica: "Orrrrrr employers would just wind up capping people's work at 40 hours while expecting them to do the same amount of work, and then when workers wind up doing all that work in their "personal" time the bosses will throw up their hands and say "hey, not my fault s/he can't get the work done in 40 hours, and what my workers do when off the clock is their business". "

Lots of jobs aren't subject to that sort of game playing.
posted by Mitheral at 6:38 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm a purely-hourly contractor. If I work an hour, I get paid an hour. If I don't, I don't. When considering a work situation like mine, most people focus on vacations, holidays, or sick days, where they won't get paid if they don't work. But they ignore the day-in, day-out routine of having to work and not get paid that comes with a salaried position.
posted by Hatashran at 9:34 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


On stock buybacks: We all do it. In order to be a public company today, you practically can’t avoid it, despite how obviously corrupt it is.

I don't think the corruptness is obvious at all. Companies issue stock to raise money, but are then controlled by the people who own the stock. When a company is successful, there's no reason to not buy back that stock, regaining more control and reclaiming equity that could be used to issue more stock in the future if times get tough.
posted by the jam at 9:38 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


The downside of contracting in the US is not only getting paid for hours you work, it's that tye benefits are often sucky/nonexistent. Great if you have a partner that works a full time gig, kind of crappy otherwise.

Of course anything to do with US employment and "benefits" is automatically sucky.
posted by Artw at 10:01 PM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


This is the kind of thread that makes me really grateful on how lucky I am. I'm not saying that working unreasonable hours doesn't happen in the UK, because of course it does, but it generally seems to have worked out for me. In my current job I never do more than 37.5 hours a week - if I do more time during a day (which is almost every day), it's all counted and I take it back as extra holidays, or going home at 3, or coming in at 9, or whatever. I can keep a pool of up to 2 weeks flexi-time.

Thing is though, I've got that because I'm good at my job and when I've been unhappy for some reason then I've always managed to find another job in the region. Luck and privilege compound on themselves, just as their absence does.
posted by YAMWAK at 2:45 AM on November 20, 2014


> There's enough money to pay for those jobs, too, it's just not making its way down.

Quoted for truth. Wage theft, pay stagnation, paucity of benefits, "just in time" scheduling and other odious labor practices are about enhancing business profitability -- it isn't a matter of survival; corporate profits are at record levels, and only a few reap the rewards.
posted by Gelatin at 6:40 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


When I was earning my finance degree, stock buy backs were, among other things, treated basically like dividends that confound the dividend growth model (since it's not regular and predictable like dividends are).

It's really just another way for a company to return equity to stock holders instead of reinvesting it in the company. The fact that the largest stock holders are the ones making the decision to buy back stock and that they are so popular should tell you who they primarily benefit.
posted by VTX at 2:40 PM on November 20, 2014


The overtime problem is linked in a nasty chicken-and-egg way with the slack labor market. If you refuse to work unpaid overtime, you'll get fired, and there are plenty of people camped outside the proverbial factory gates to replace you should that happen.

The same forces that allow companies to bully workers into unpaid overtime or shitty working conditions are the same that have led to the erosion of unions. Capital is mobile, labor less so, and there's a lot more free labor than capital requires.

Don't like working 60 hours for 40 hours worth of pay? Fine, we'll find somebody else who does.

Don't like working "at will", without a union? Fine, go ahead and try to organize, we'll close the factory and move it to Mexico. Or China. Or India. Or Vietnam. Or Thailand. Or Cambodia. There's no short list of alternatives.

I'm not even sure it's a problem you can solve by voting. Like a noose that tightens regardless of whether you twist your neck right or left, both parties have decided to score points at the blue-collar economy's expense. Republicans do it by sweeping away the legal vestiges of union power (which were always a sideshow to unions' real power, which was control over the supply of labor in a particular region or industry); Democrats do it through trade deals and immigration policies. Both parties have their pet industries who get protected in return for their votes--the right has agribusiness, the left has government employees--but if you don't have a patron, you're just a pawn to be sacrificed in the next round.

I'd like to see somebody come out firmly in favor of a tight labor market but I don't have much hopes of seeing that happen. There's just too much corporate money trying to keep things exactly the way they are.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:09 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


The FREE MARKET at work. Don't blame us, it's just market forces! Natural law!
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 3:34 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Facebook shuttle drivers just voted to unionize.
posted by rtha at 3:44 PM on November 20, 2014


grumpybear69: "At least in California, overtime for non-management* personnel is mandatory.

* the definition can get a bit wiggly, of course.
"

I work for a major California employer in a position that gives me a small degree of insight into our employment practices liability and wage-and-hour issues and OMIGOD do they seem to classify a whole lotta people as "exempt" who have zero hiring-or-firing responsibility, zero do-we-sign-this-contract authority, zero ANYTHING actually-worthy-of-being-exempt-and-therefore-salaried.
posted by Lexica at 8:45 PM on November 20, 2014


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