An Easy Fix for Members Who Want Overtime for Staff

Gutiérrez will pay his congressional staff overtime. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Even if Congress takes no action on amending the Congressional Accountability Act to add overtime protections for staff, individual offices can lead the way and implement changes for their own staff, much as they have done for workplace protections such as maternity and paternity leave.  

Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez, D-Ill., says he intends to apply the new overtime regulations to his congressional employees in Washington and Chicago, “regardless of whether the U.S. Congress moves to adopt them when final.” Gutiérrez compared himself to a small-business employer, saying, “If these regulations are good enough for American workers in the private and public sectors, they ought to be good enough for me and my colleagues in the House and Senate.”  

Boehner and Pelosi Agree: Overtime for Their Aides

Boehner and Pelosi will both overtime for their aides at the new Dept. of Labor threshold, when finalized in 2016. (CQ Roll Call File Photo).

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., agree on one aspect of the new overtime provisions: More of their own aides will be eligible for extra pay when the new criteria issued by the Department of Labor are finalized, likely in early 2016.  

Pelosi's office already paid overtime at the annual salary threshold of $50,000, and will use the new $50,440 annual salary threshold in 2016. A spokeswoman for Boehner said his office "will work to adopt the new criteria when finalized by the Department of Labor." The office of House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., will comply with the new threshold, according to his spokesman. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., did not respond to several requests for comment.  

Experts: Congress Under Pressure on Overtime Rules

Late night on Capitol Hill? Experts think Congress may bow to pressure to pay overtime. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Workplace and labor law experts are predicting Congress will bow to external pressures and implement new overtime regulations, including the $50,440 annual salary threshold.  

The reason is that the Congressional Accountability Act, the legislation that governs Congress’ own workplace, was designed to keep pace with private sector employment laws, says Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute and a former Hill staffer.  

Congress' Overtime Rules Are From 1970s

Congress has let overtime provisions remain as "pending" for several years.  (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Congress has gone 11 years without implementing changes to the income thresholds for paying staffers overtime, and the overtime standards in practice today on Capitol Hill are so antiquated they date back to 1975.  

In short, that means the annual salary one can make in Congress before being eligible for overtime is $155 a week, or about $8,060 a year. That's a far cry from the Labor Department's proposed threshold annual salary of $50,440, and still dramatically lower than the $23,660 income threshold the Labor Department adopted in 2004.  

Half of Capitol Hill Staff Could Qualify for New Overtime Rules

The workplace that never sleeps: Half of Capitol Hill staff are under the new overtime threshold. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo).

Nearly half of Capitol Hill staffers could qualify for overtime pay under the new Obama administration overtime rules to move the threshold to $50,440. Whether the new rules will apply to staffers is an open question for Congress.  

According to a custom report produced for CQ Roll Call by LegiStorm, 5,617 staffers, or 43 percent, are making less than $50,440 annually. The report analyzed 13,092 Capitol Hill staffers who work in committee, leadership and personal offices of the House and Senate and adjusted for anomalies, which include staffers who leave midway through a fiscal quarter and those paid out for vacation days.  

Overtime Pay Not Likely for Congressional Staff

Hill staffers may work all hours, but they won't see overtime pay anytime soon. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Barack Obama may be signing overtime rules into place for nearly 5 million workers, but those beneficiaries aren't likely to include Capitol Hill staffers.  

The legislative branch, which includes Capitol Hill staff and related agencies, have long been governed by their own workplace rules. The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 provides some workplace protections for Hill staff, including allowing time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act and preventing certain workplace discrimination on the basis of race, age or sexual orientation. But unless Congress takes proactive action to amend the CAA, Hill staffers making under $50,440 will not be seeing overtime into their long work weeks. On a call with reporters, White House Domestic Policy Council Chief Cecilia Munoz said the Office of Personnel Management (which oversees the executive branch workers) typically updates its rules to match federal labor regulations governing private sector workers. She said the White House looks forward to seeing the new overtime rules apply "across the workforce, including in the federal government."