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L&I proposal would expand overtime pay to more Washington workers

Washington Department of Labor and Industries public hearing on overtime rule at Swedish Club in Seattle on July 16, 2019.
Paula Wissel
Washington Department of Labor and Industries public hearing on overtime rule at Swedish Club in Seattle on July 16, 2019.

More workers in Washington would be eligible for overtime pay under a proposed rule from the state Department of Labor and Industries. Employees making salaries up to $70,000 a year would qualify for overtime under the change.

This rule applies to exempt employees who are paid a set salary rather than an hourly wage. Currently, workers can make as little as $24,000 a year and still not be eligible for overtime in the state. The rule change would increase it by nearly three times that amount. The salary threshold also would be adjusted annually to always be equal to two-and-a-half times the state minimum wage.

This summer, the L&I has been holding public hearings on the overtime rule proposal, which would take effect in July 2020 if approved. At a packed hearing in Seattle on July 16, University of Washington student Abbygial Eleccion testified. She said the new rule will help people like her mother, who works as a custodian but had to turn down a promotion because the salary was so low.

"The reality of the matter is that workers promoted to salaried in management often put in 50 to 60 hours a week, but still do not earn enough to live comfortably," Eleccion said.

But some business owners and nonprofit directors who testified said paying overtime or boosting salaries to $70,000 is not sustainable. Carl Michelman, owner of Michelman Insurance in Kenmore, said he's not unsympathetic to the need for some changes in the overtime rule. "I urge you to consider making adjustments, but make them realistic for small business people," Michelman said.

Kim Rorschach, director and CEO of the Seattle Art Museum, testified that arts and culture organizations in the state also would struggle to either increase worker's salaries or pay them overtime. "It's too expensive for us to be able to handle and very much too cumbersome for us to administer with the yearly changes," Rorschach testified.

L&I will hold hearings in Eastern Washington and Vancouver, Washington, in August. The deadline to submit written testimony is Sept. 6. If adopted, the overtime rule would take effect July 1, 2020.


Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.