Nо Extra Paу fоr Extra Wоrk

If all had gone according to plan, as many as 4.2 million additional workers in the would have started earning time and a half for , effective Dec. 1. But that plan, developed by the Obama administration’s Labor Department in an exemplary rule-making process over the past two years, was blocked on Tuesday by a federal judge in Texas.

The judge’s ruling is a triumph for economic injustice and income inequality. Though temporary, it leaves little doubt that he will strike the rule down permanently. The Labor Department is considering an appeal. But a Labor Department under could simply drop out of any case inherited from the Obama administration.

President Obama signing the overtime protection plan in 2014.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The employees who will be hurt by the ruling typically earn low-to-modest salaries in jobs at retail stores, hotels, call centers and other service-sector businesses. Unless their bosses decide otherwise, they will continue to work without overtime pay for anything beyond 40 hours a week.

Federal overtime law, which dates back to 1938, never intended that result. The law has always been clear that an employer does not have to pay salaried workers time and a half for overtime if those workers earn enough to qualify as executives, professionals or administrators. The problem is that the $455-a-week threshold at which workers qualify for white-collar status has not been fully updated for inflation since 1975. As a result, the share of the work force eligible for overtime has dropped, from about 60 percent in 1975 to 7 percent today.

The updated rules the judge blocked would have raised the threshold to $913 a week, about where it would have been if it had kept pace with inflation. In all, about one-third of salaried employees would have been eligible for overtime under the new threshold.

In blocking the rule, Judge Amos Mazzant III agreed with a coalition of states and businesses that the Labor Department had overstepped its authority. He said the law does not allow the Labor Department to decide which employees are eligible for overtime based on salary level alone.

This was a twisted reading of the law and history. There are various tests that can be applied to determine whether a salaried employee is eligible for overtime. But salary alone can determine the answer. If an employer does not pay an employee a salary equal or above the threshold, the employee is entitled to time and a half for overtime, period.

President-elect Donald Trump indicated during the campaign that new rules on overtime should include exemptions for small businesses, a stance that leaves him room to maneuver. He could defend updated overtime standards and still support legislation with the limited carve-out he suggested. Doing so would mean defying congressional Republicans who opposed the new overtime rule, as well as opposing every other pro-worker labor reform of the Obama era. But it would also mean he is paying attention to the needs of the working people who elected him.

For millions of Americans, there will be no extra pay for extra work anytime soon — unless Mr. Trump makes it happen.