Will Winking and Nodding Work on the New Overtime Rule?

Actors protest minimum wage hike that they say will kill small theaters in LA. March 2015
Actors protest minimum wage hike that they say will kill small theaters in LA. March 2015

New Orleans   The fallout and positioning over the doubling of the salary requirement for exemption from overtime to more than $47,000 continues unabated, and you can just feel the strain starting to burst the seams of the new rule. The complaints are just not coming from the usual crowd of corporate exploiters but also from creative and nonprofit outfits.

Publishers, magazines, editorial departments, writers’ unions, and Hollywood film operations are all saying out loud what others may be thinking, and that’s whether or not there’s a way around the new regulations. Many of them have specialized in semi-unpaid internships and a grueling diet of long hours and low pay as younger, inexperienced workers try to earn their chops in essentially work-based apprenticeships, sometimes subsidized by wealthier families and well-greased connections. If you look carefully at the masthead of some of the publications you see coming into your own homes, often you can find a listing of the current interns who come and go as regularly as widgets off the assembly line.

Much of this has just been standard operating procedure to get ahead, a way in Drake’s works of “starting at the bottom, but we’ll all here now.” A friend of my daughter’s was lucky to get a clerical job in a production studio. A cameraman for a documentary shoot, originally from Kansas City, but now in Brooklyn, told me he had been in the industry for 10 years, starting by bringing coffee, and the last 5 years with his hands on the camera. A daughter of close friends jumped around as an intern at the Boston Globe and Chicago Tribune before writing her way into a regular position as a journalist.

Nonprofits like the US Public Interest Research Group, the old Nader outfit, on the progressive side and Judicial Watch on the conservative side both raised objections about what overtime would mean to blocking their work and the responsibilities of junior staff. Both argued from their differing perspectives that this would be a problem.

And, it is. Recently I’ve had several conversations about whether it would be possible to build a Farmworkers movement or an ACORN in the future. The UFW famously paid $5 per day and room and board. ACORN for years advertised widely for organizers willing to work “long hours for low pay,” and both were true. For decades we defined the hours as being “until the work was done” be it 5 hours one day or 15 the next. When the limit was raised to $23000 plus, we raised everyone over that, which wouldn’t be possible at $47000 plus.

One Hollywooder, said he suspected there would be a lot of “winking and nodding” to try and get around the regs, but there’s risk there. For everyone that finds opportunity that way, there will eventually be someone who is disgruntled, and a quick trip to the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division will end up as one of those situations of “pay me now or pay me later,” but either way, people will be paid.

I suspect the seam that might allow mass-based organizations to still develop lies somewhere at the nexus of informal work and self-employed, Uber-style contracting, but there’s a lot of tearing the hair and lectures from lawyers awaiting the organizations at the threshold of this brave new world before they jump into that dark and deep water. Nonetheless, I know I can’t be the only one standing at the dock trying to see the bottom and what might work.

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Please enjoy Eric Clapton’s Can’t Let You Do It. Thanks to KABF.

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Grandiosity and Self-Delusion Gone Wild, O’Keefe Has the Money to be Dangerous

Project Veritas 990
Project Veritas 990

New Orleans       Vigilance knows no holiday, nonetheless I don’t want to be a bore even while I write, Paul Revere style, from door to door crying out the alarm that James O’Keefe and his copycats are dangerous to democracy and chilling the efforts of mass organization and support. I beat this drum regularly, but found myself reading Jane Mayer’s article in The New Yorker called “Sting of Myself: Amateurish spies like James O’Keefe III attempt to sway the 2016 campaign” and forced to yell “Wolf!” everywhere I can be heard. I just sent the piece out to all corners where I work in the spirit of “be prepared!”

I’ve been arguing that O’Keefe’s credibility has been shot to smithereens, but I’m making the mistake of assuming that we are living and working in a rational political environment and that is clearly my bad. Most recently, he was caught amateurishly once again while trying to scam Open Society, the George Soros foundation, when he mistakenly kept babbling on his target’s voice mail. In a more normal world that might be the final straw, but, oh, no, not with this bad penny.

O’Keefe’s dark money funders have such deep pockets that putting some bets on him is the equivalent of picking up the bar tab on major league politics like a presidential campaign and therefore a trivial matter. His misnamed, Project Veritas, which gained an IRS tax exemption for charitable and educational activity, turns out to be raking in the dough. Mayer clearly looked at his IRS Form 990 filings and found that he took in $1.2 million in 2103 and then doubled down with $2.4 million in 2014. Likely when the 2015 filings become public, he will have added to that stash as well.

Justin Bieber has a new hit about a girl where he sings, “if you like the way you look that much, Oh, baby, you should go and love yourself.” He could have written that song about O’Keefe who is on a Trump-style ego trip of self-delusion, self-promotion and grandiosity, but like Trump and Bieber’s ex-girlfriend, that doesn’t mean he’s not very dangerous, especially now that he has a bank account to fuel his pomposity.

He claims he has the money to have buried his operatives in numerous campaigns, and that’s likely true though the notion that they are at the heart of anything rather than the periphery is unlikely, but that’s OK for O’Keefe, because that his modus operandi anyway. Taking trivia from low level, public-facing staff and volunteers and trying to make political scandal mountains from molehills is his shtick. I used to advise organizers to start with lower targets in a campaign to build momentum, saying metaphorically that they should “hit the meter reader” on their way to the top in utility campaign for example, but O’Keefe never gets above the meter reader because for all his big talk about upending politics, he’s really just trying to break back into the rightwing echo chamber that still listens to his line.

So, why not ignore him, as even Glenn Beck now does? Well, because the biggest problem with O’Keefe is that his presence on the scene is chilling to real work. He breeds caution in organizations that need to be aggressive. He and his imitators still leave many organizations afraid to engage in voter registration and engagement for fear of attack and infiltration by scurrilous means and reputational damage from public attack. He forces organizations and campaigns to spend time and money in internal training and self-protection rather than pursing their objectives and doing the work. For fear of seeing these sentences quoted in an O’Keefe fundraising pitch to some conservative, billionaire zealot, I should add that increasingly organizations have tightened up to the new reality of such scammers, caulked the holes, and stepped out again, and Jane Mayer’s effective outing of O’Keefe in such a prominent publication helps inoculate opinion makers, donors, politicians and others not to fall for this stuff in the future, which acts to effectively reinsert backbones where they were starting to sag under the constant assault of similar attacks.

His day might not be quite over, but hour by hour it’s coming closer to the end.

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