As the Fight for $15 turns four, Obama’s overtime rule is in jeopardy

The Fight for $15, the worker-born and union-backed movement that continues to push for a nationwide $15 minimum wage, organized a national “day of disruption” Tuesday. The movement, which in its early days focused on the fast food industry, has expanded to include low-wage workers at airports and hospitals, and Uber drivers. Tuesday’s action was marked by protests at airports and outside restaurants across the nation, and the New York Times reports dozens were arrested in Los Angeles, Cambridge, and New York at the time of publication.

The Obama administration’s expansion of overtime pay has been temporarily blocked by Texas federal judge Amos Mazzant.

As their employees are protesting, chain restaurants across the nation have reason to celebrate: The Obama administration’s expansion of overtime pay, which was set to go into effect on December 1, has been temporarily blocked by Texas federal judge Amos Mazzant. The National Council of Chain Restaurants (NCCR), a group which includes McDonald’s, Olive Garden, Papa John’s, and others, applauded the decision. NCCR Executive Director Rob Green told Politico’s Morning Ag that overtime expansion is “a dramatic government overreach causing significant harm to small businesses and their employees around the country.”

The Labor Department rule would increase the threshold at which most workers receive overtime pay to $47,746 (from $29,654), affecting about 4.2 million employees. Kevin Drum at Mother Jones puts that salary floor into context—accounting for inflation using two different measures—here. His takeaway: the Department of Labor used reasonable methods to set a reasonable floor, and this seemingly large increase is a correction of the Bush administration’s artificially low threshold. But, as Politico’s Marianne Levine points out in this explainer, Republicans in Congress have been trying to block the rule for months. And though the judge’s halt on the rule is preliminary—and temporary—Levine reads it as a signal that he’ll side with the plaintiffs.

But we may all be replaced by robots anyway: In a sneering op-ed in Forbes today titled “Thanks To ‘Fight For $15’ Minimum Wage, McDonald’s Unveils Job-Replacing Self-Service Kiosks Nationwide,” former McDonald’s USA president and CEO Ed Rensi pointed to the chain’s nationwide rollout of automated touch screen ordering systems. He calls into question the legitimacy of the Fight for $15 (“This brings me to my last correct prediction, which is that the Fight for $15 was always more a creation of the left-wing Service Employees International Union (SEIU) rather than a legitimate grassroots effort”) and compares labor groups to “their Soviet-era predecessors.” He casts “young people … who have had their futures compromised” as the true losers in the battle for higher wages. What you want is what you get, indeed.

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H. Claire Brown is a senior staff writer for The Counter. Her work has also appeared in The Atlantic, The Guardian, and The Intercept and has won awards from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, the New York Press Club, the Newswomen's Club of New York, and others. A North Carolina native, she now lives in Brooklyn.