Pensacola, Florida
Friday December 15th 2017

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The Buzz 5/26/16

More Pay for Extra Hours On May 17, the U.S. Department of Labor issued its final rule regarding overtime regulations.

The final rule, which becomes effective Dec. 1, raises the salary threshold indicating eligibility for overtime pay from $455/week to $913 ($47,476 per year), ensuring protections to 4.2 million workers. It automatically updates the salary threshold every three years, based on wage growth over time.

Clark Partington attorney Richard Sherrill gave background on the rule on News Talk 1370 WCOA’s “Pensacola Speaks.”

“President Obama directed the Department of Labor last year to issue regulations and a final rule, as it’s called, to the Fair Labor Standards Act, the FLSA, dealing with overtime for salaried employees below a certain threshold,” Sherrill explained. “The threshold had not been updated since 2004. So over a decade, the threshold for a “highly compensated employee” was set at $23,000 a year so that anyone making above that amount was not subject to overtime, essentially.”

He added, “The final rule, effective beginning December, provides that that amount is essentially doubled from $23,000 to $47,476, so that anyone who’s a salaried employee making making $47,476 or less and who works more than 40 hours a week is entitled to overtime.”

According to the Department of Labor, the December 1 deadline gives employers more than six months to prepare. The final rule does not make any changes to the duties test for executive, administrative and professional employees.

The Florida Retail Federation isn’t happy with the final rule. The group said the rule was another example of the federal government attempting to help the lower and middle class by extending the overtime rules, but it believes the rule will do the exact opposite and hurt those same people by reducing the number of hours they’re allowed to work, thereby reducing their incomes.

“This rule will also cost Florida retailers millions of dollars in administrative costs, and thousands of employees would be changed to hourly, thereby negatively impacting their pay, their benefits and their families,” said FRF President/CEO Randy Miller. “We are extremely concerned about the impact this rule will have on Florida’s businesses and economy, and we are working with our state and federal partners to identify any possible options for recourse on this drastic decision.”

Sherrill talked about the positives and negatives of the rule.

“Certainly for any employee who’s working more than 40 hours, under $47,000 salary, that employee’s going to cost more per hour for any overtime,” he said. “Wage expense will go up.”

However, he added, “Now, the counter to that is that the Department of Labor believes that that will cause employers to identify that overtime, cap the overtime, for which the employee’s not being paid anything more, and then push that work to additional employees. That has a benefit on the overall economy of chipping away at unemployment, putting more people to work, and spreading out the tasks that the Department of Labor says should be worth more overtime to other employees at regular wages.”

Sherrill said, “The Department of Labor’s response is that it’s going to make businesses more efficient, and it’s going to increase employment.”

Open Disagreement In an unprecedented open letter to the citizens of Pensacola posted on the city’s website, Mayor Ashton Hayward called a special council meeting to discuss his termination of Fire Chief Matt Schmitt and Deputy Fire Chief Joe Glover “ill-advised” and “a staged rally for the terminated employees.” He said that his firing of the two men with a combined 50+ years service with the Pensacola Fire Department was “an irrevocable decision.”

Since he announced his decision, Mayor Hayward has not held a press conference or given any specifics on his analysis of the investigation or the report by Beggs & Lane attorney Russell Van Sickle. He did not meet with the fire chiefs when he placed them on paid administrative leave or when he dismissed them. He did not attend the May 12 council meeting to hear from the public about his decision.

The mayor pointed out in his letter that the city charter gives him “the power to appoint, discipline and remove all officers and employees” and “to suspend, discipline or remove a department head with or without cause and without the consent of City Council members.”

Though he and his staff have not met with individual council members about the investigation and subsequent termination of the chiefs, the mayor said he would answer questions from council members if asked “to the best of my ability.”

“I have always responded to concerns any Council member has expressed to me,” said Hayward. “However, holding a staged rally for the terminated employees is beneath the dignity of the Council and is not a constructive way to discuss anything.”

He added, “Conduct of the terminated employees that I find unacceptable, a council member may believe is acceptable, but there is no power provided under the Charter to second-guess the decision to terminate an employee.”

The mayor had not told the media, public or fire chiefs what conduct that he found unacceptable. However, he believed that he has been treated unfairly.

“It’s unfortunate that some Council members have attributed to me illicit, unfair or mean-spirited motives that do not exist and never will,” said Hayward.

He said the Council has not displayed a “mutual respect for our roles under the Charter.”

The mayor closed, “Dissent is good, and vigorous disagreement is healthy to assure that the best decisions are made; created discord and divisiveness, however, are not, and the citizens do not like it and do not want it to continue.”

Innovation for Mentally-ill The Sarasota City Commission recently voted to help fund a pilot program, Comprehensive Treatment Court, that aims to divert low-level, non-violent offenders with mental illness from the county jail and providing them with services and treatment. The paper first wrote about this program in March  (Inweekly, “Criminal Justice System and the Mentally Ill,” March 10).

The city, Sarasota County, and three local foundations— Community Foundation of Sarasota, Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation— have committed to funding the pilot program for three years. The City and County each will budget $442,000 over the period–one-third of the cost. The three foundations will split the remaining $442,000.

According to news reports, the city’s three-year commitment allows organizers to pursue a Florida Department of Children and Families’ Criminal Justice Mental Health Reinvestment Grant, which will require about $1.2 million in matching funds during the three-year pilot.

In Escambia County, the Escambia County Jail spends roughly $105 on each mentally ill inmate per day. If one of those persons is incarcerated for one year, the total cost equals more than $38,000.

Escambia County could pay for a Comprehensive Treatment Court if the program could divert each year 12 mentally ill inmates from year-long stays at the county jail.