I’m still thinking about Jeremy Corbyn and the potential ramifications of that disaster for us in the States. Blame seems mostly to have settled on his flimsy and feckless personality, and that sounds fair to me. Secondary blame rests with the Remain-Leave business. Then there’s this debate about the Labour manifesto.
I support most of the individual items on the manifesto, especially in the first three sections (greening the economy, rebuilding public services, attacking inequality). I’m sure lots of people do. So if there’s a problem with the manifesto, it isn’t really ideological.
Rather, it’s psychological. You read it and you begin to grow skeptical just slogging through the thing. It goes on and on and on. And on again. And you think: Man, this is such a huge long list of things. You’re never going to be able to do all these things. And even if you can, you’ll fuck half of them up one way or another. That’s just how things go these days.
And that’s the lesson for our campaign. Much as progressives love them, endless lists of “I’ll pass this” and “I’ll pass that” do not become more persuasive to average people just by virtue of growing longer. And public skepticism of this sort of thing is far greater here than in the U.K., for two reasons: one, we don’t have their parliamentary system, which makes passing a party program much harder here; and two, trust in government to get anything right is lower here (as you’ve seen since the vote, BoJo is actually promising to spend real, live public money on actual human beings, which his counterparts here would never countenance).
All this is by way of getting to today’s topic: Lengthy manifestos of the Labour sort aren’t likely to do any good here. Far better for candidates to choose two or three things and emphasize those. And one of them, as I’ve written before, has to be middle-class wages. And on this very topic, something happened last week in the other Washington that the presidential campaigns should all be paying attention to.
Last Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee put into effect (legislation wasn’t needed, just executive action via his Labor Department) the country’s most sweeping and comprehensive set of regulations regarding overtime pay for middle-class workers. It will restore overtime protections for nearly 420,000 middle-class workers in the state.
Why is this a big deal? Because over the last 40 years, employers have been gradually and stealthily taking overtime pay away from more and more workers. In the 1970s, 62 percent of salaried full-time workers nationwide qualified for overtime pay. Today, that number is as low as 7 percent. This does not mean that people are working less. They’re working just as much or more—the average salaried employee works 49 hours per week. What it does mean is they’re not getting paid for it.
The Obama administration tried to do something about this nationally fairly late in his second term, doubling the salary level up to which workers could get overtime pay for hours worked above 40 per week. The right went nuts. Donald Trump came in and said nyet. Finally, in September, Trump’s Labor Department promulgated its own rules, and what it did actually wasn’t evil, believe it or not. But it still wasn’t good. The proposal will make 1.8 million workers newly eligible for overtime pay, whereas more than 4 million would have been eligible under the Obama standards.
Inslee—who, yes, does do other things besides talk about climate change—goes much, much farther. Trump’s rule takes in workers up to about $35,000. Under Inslee’s plan, workers making up to $83,000 will get time-and-a-half for every extra hour worked once the plan fully kicks in by 2028. That’s two-and-a-half times the minimum wage. That’s huge. It will go a long way toward ending what has plainly and simply been the cheating of workers out of their rightful pay for decades.
Inslee’s a good man, but as you know governors don’t just do these things. A coalition of groups including SEIU 775 in Seattle, Working Washington, the Economic Opportunity Institute and others played roles. My friend Nick Hanauer, the Seattle-based venture capitalist who spearheaded the fight a few years ago to raise that city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, was in the thick of this one, too.
“Overtime pay is for the middle class what the minimum wage is for the working class,” Hanauer told me when I was in Seattle last week. “Just as the Fight for $15 has had a meaningful impact on millions of hourly workers across the country who were working for too little to get by, overtime pay will have significant impact on salaried workers who have been required for too long to work for free.”
Democratic presidential candidates: awake and pay attention here! Don’t emulate Jeremy Corbyn. Emulate Nick Hanauer. Wages is the ballgame here. Wages.
But as I wrote in that column I linked to above, they don’t do it. They all have overtime proposals on their websites, but someone needs to make it central—talk about it and proselytize about it and get the public focused on it. This is about people who make $25,000 to about $85,000. Hello? That’s most people.
“If you're a Democrat, the politics of this should be profoundly obvious to you,” Hanauer says. “Everyone's feeling overworked and underpaid. Restoring overtime is the kind of effective policy that will immediately improve people’s lives and the economy.”
There’s (yet) another debate this Thursday. We know they’re going to spend 30 minutes debating taking away people’s insurance, and we’re going to hear lots and lots of plans. But will someone, finally, talk about middle-class wages?