Working 9–5, And Also 5–8 And Sometimes More For The Same Money

The Obama administration had a few significant victories last week, and it’s not done. The latest domestic front on which it’s going to wage a battle? Paid overtime for the American worker. Kate Dore explains:

A recent Public Policing Polling found 65% of Americans would support mandatory overtime pay for workers earning up to $75,000 per year. If this became a reality, 84% of the workforce would be eligible for overtime pay, but currently only 11% qualifies.

Last month, the Obama administration submitted a proposal to expand the number of workers who are eligible for overtime pay. This reform could result in a pay bump for millions of workers, but the results won’t be made public for several weeks.

My first job in New York, as an assistant at a Very Important Talent Agency, I was paid by the week, and we were still expected to log our hours into a computer program, because we got extra for overtime. That meant if we ate at our desks instead of taking an hour to breathe the smoggy midtown Manhattan air, and if we got in around 9:00 and stayed until 7:00 PM, we could actually make enough to get by, more or less.

At my next job, at the Self-Important Casting Agency, the rules were different. I was expected to be the first one in, to open the office, turn on the lights, unpack and arrange the flowers, tidy the dishes left in the sink, and so on — and I was also expected to be the last person to leave at night, turn out the lights, so that I could take out the trash, tidy the dishes left in the sink, and set the alarm. And I didn’t have an official lunch break. There was no one to cover me at the desk, so unless I begged one of the Assistants to sit there while I dashed across the street, I was stuck eating furtively out of a brown bag while models waiting for their auditions looked at me with empty-eyed contempt.

It was easily a 50 or 60 hour week, especially when one counts the extra hours on the weekend I sometimes was told to put in, and I was paid a flat fee of $28,000. No overtime. What was I thinking? As Dore puts it, “you’re reducing your hourly rate by working unpaid extra hours. … Your time has value, and you’re the only one who’s going to fight to protect that value.”

It seems obvious. As an undervalued employee, and also as a self-employed, working-from-home type, though, that can be easy to forget.

The administration’s push for paid OT seems well-timed. Workers rights are in these days. Big companies have been making headlines by raising their minimum wage. In fact, paying employees better has worked so well for IKEA, it’s planning to boost wages some more.

what types of benefits has Ikea seen?

For one, less turnover. Although it’s only been six months since the raises went into effect, Olson said Ikea is on pace to reduce turnover by 5 percent or better this fiscal year. Holding onto employees longer means the company is spending less on recruiting and training new replacements.

Ikea is also attracting more qualified job seekers to work at its stores, according to Olson. Pay for retail sales workers in the U.S. is generally very low, with an average industry wage of just $12.38 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But Ikea’s average store wage is heading north of $15. After its living wage announcement last year, the company opened two new locations — one in Merriam, Kansas, and another in Miami — and the higher wages (and attendant publicity) likely helped the company lure more candidates.

“At both of those stores, the applicant pool was fantastic,” Olson said.

Ikea is just one of a number of major retailers, including Gap and Walmart, that have moved to boost their minimum wages in the past two years. But Ikea may have implemented its raises in the most unique manner, thanks to its reliance on the MIT Living Wage Calculator. For comparison, at the College Park, Maryland, store, in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, the minimum wage will be $14.54 next year, while at the store in Pittsburgh, it will be $10.

IKEA stores are also beginning to sell Scandinavian candy, so that if your relationship survives a trip to the store, you can reward yourselves with gummies; or, if it seems like you’re relationship isn’t going to survive a trip to the store, you can restore your couple-y equilibrium by bonding over your feelings about edible skulls and Finnish licorice. EVERYONE WINS.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.