With the good news of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s announcement that he won’t enforce the proposed federal overtime pay regulations, the National Newspaper Association is asking Texas newspaper publishers to help provide input as the DOL considers standards that would be more fair.
The regualtions proposed in 2016 would have set the salary base for exempt employees at $47,476, but Acosta said he wants to review this issue. NNA directors say new regulations should include not only a gradual increase in the salary base, but a “regionally adjusted threshold as well,” taking into account regional differences in the cost of living. Other issues include comp time as alternative to overtime pay and classifying journalists as professionals.
“NNA recognizes that both publishers and their staffs face serious economic challenges in many regions,” NNA President Matthew Paxton IV wrote. “At the same time, communities need their newspapers. Striking the right balance in favor of all of these concerns is critical,’ he added.
The letter follows:
To Texas newspaper publishers:
I am writing with some news and a request for information. I hope you can take the time to read this rather long letter, because it has useful information for your newspaper and presents an opportunity to you to help the National Newspaper Association for all newspapers.
First, the news this month is good for the mission of community journalism.
The new Labor Secretary, Alexander Acosta, has just announced that he does not intend to enforce the Fair Labor Standards Act regulation setting the salary base for exempt employees at $47,476. He is going to take a new look at this issue.
NNA has campaigned over the last two years for a more realistic base.
So if your newspaper did not lay off staff or reassign people to comply with the higher salary last December, you can take a breather while we see what is next. We go back to work for a fairer standard that helps our staffs and still enables you to cover the news.
Before Acosta’s decision, we had succeeded in bringing that salary threshold down somewhat. The original proposal from the Obama administration had been for a level of more than $50,000. NNA’s opposition, along with a couple of other rural-business organizations, drew notice in the Labor Department’s 2016 ruling when we pointed out that setting salaries by urban costs of living would penalize businesses in many small towns. We have been pushing for a phase-in of any new salary threshold. Now we have a chance for a better approach.
Now, the request. We need your responses to this survey.
Here is some background. NNA agreed with lawmakers last year that the salary threshold of $23,660—which was last changed in 2004—was ripe for an update. Updating it is the sole duty of the Labor Department, and not Congress. The fact that past administrations did not exercise their authority to gradually raise the threshold, though, is no reason to punish businesses by requiring an accelerated update. Whatever Washington does, increases should be generally in line with inflation.
Along with a gradual increase, your board is on record in support of several policies to make any future update fair for community newspapers. We want to know what you think of our existing policies.
• A regionally adjusted threshold is needed, recognizing that the cost of living in New York is far higher than in the middle of the country. If the base far exceeds annual household incomes in many places where newspapers publish, small businesses are unlikely to generate the revenue to give big raises.
• Comp time should be allowed. The ability to use compensatory time (comp time) over the course of a year to level out peak news seasons is sorely needed. State and federal governments have the authority to use comp time, but the private sector is prohibited. We need flexibility to give our staff more family time, and we see that opportunity in HR 1180, a bill that has passed the House and is now pending in the Senate. We would like Labor Secretary Acosta to endorse that approach. If you want to know more about that bill, follow this link.
• Journalists should be ranked as professionals. Our industry is hobbled by a few federal court decisions that take wholly distorted views of what community newspaper journalists do every day. Because of those decisions, many journalists would not be classified as exempt even if they reached the salary threshold. The Labor Department should change that classification.
Labor law issues are delicate and sensitive. They evoke strong views on all sides. NNA recognizes that both publishers and their staffs face serious economic challenges in many regions. At the same time, communities need their newspapers. Striking the right balance in favor of all of these concerns is critical. We need to get it right.
So, please, give us a minute of your time. We will post our comments to Secretary Acosta on the NNA website at the end of September. If you have other comments, you are welcome to write me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your commitment to our industry.
Matthew Paxton IV
Publisher of The News-Gazette,