By Don McIntosh
Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) has changed how it interprets overtime laws — in a way that could fatten the paychecks of Oregon factory workers. The change follows a lawsuit filed in August 2016 by the non-profit Northwest Workers Justice Project (NWJP) on behalf of a group of workers at Portland Specialty Baking, which earlier that year quashed a union campaign. The suit says the bakery violated an Oregon law that requires overtime pay when workers “employed in a mill, factory or manufacturing establishment” work more than 10 hours in a day. BOLI enforces that law as well as a separate law that requires overtime pay for all hourly workers if they work more than 40 hours a week. Before the lawsuit, BOLI advised employers that they had to pay the greater of the two overtime pay amounts, but not both. But NWJP attorney Corinna Spencer-Scheurich says that advice was wrong.
Suppose an Oregon factory worker put in three 12-hour shifts and one six-hour shift in a week, totaling 42 hours. That’s six hours of daily overtime and two hours of weekly overtime. Under BOLI’s old interpretation, the worker would have been paid at the overtime rate for six hours — the greater of the two. Under the new interpretation, the laws operate independently, so the worker must be paid eight hours at the time-and-a-half overtime rate.
BOLI spokesperson Charlie Burr said NWJP’s lawsuit led BOLI to take another look at the way the laws operate, and the agency ended up agreeing with plaintiffs.
“The two statutes enact distinct overtime requirements and serve different purposes with respect to restrictions on hours worked by employees,” says an updated manual for BOLI compliance agents.
The change applies to an estimated 187,477 manufacturing workers in Oregon.
No trial date has been set yet in the bakery lawsuit. The two sides are still submitting preliminary legal arguments.