Magazine

The Clock And The Paycheck


"Wage Wars," our Oct. 1 Cover Story about overtime pay, referred to the emergence of a "white-collar proletariat": employees with college educations and middle-class incomes who are essentially modern-day production workers. The article described a surge in lawsuits on behalf of these employees--including computer programmers, accounting firm staff, and pharmaceutical sales reps--demanding that they get paid for working more than 40 hours a week. The piece struck a nerve for a lot of readers, who chimed in with their own tales of onerous hours without extra pay and seemed delighted that companies are being called to account. "Enough is enough," wrote one. A far smaller group wanted these workers to stop their whining. As one writer noted: "Every American employee shares one means of relief certain to prevent further abuse: They can quit and look for another job." Our article identified Reno (Nev.) attorney Mark R. Thierman as a trailblazer in filing claims on behalf of the white-collar working class, and pointed out that he had reaped millions of dollars in doing so. That spurred about half a dozen readers to lash out at the lawyers who bring these suits. But that outrage didn't deter a plaintiffs' attorney from promoting his law firm's services on the reader's comment section of BusinessWeek.com.

Generally, I think we are a lawsuit-crazy society, but in this case I see real merit to the claims. My husband is a "manager" for a large manufacturing company where he works a lot of overtime. This past week he worked 66 hours. No overtime pay, of course. I used to think that this was simply what is "expected" of white-collar employees, but this is wrong! At the end of the month, many of the employees who work for my husband bring home paychecks much larger than his because they are paid for their overtime while he is not.

Screen name: Tiffany*

Work is a privilege. Those who do more than they are paid for (yes, even Starbucks (SBUX) baristas) get noticed, get promoted, and earn more because of it. Why not let the market work and those who want to work hard reap the rewards to which they are entitled? Mr. Thierman and his ilk are not helping America remain great--they are roadblocks to our market leadership. Their tactics worked in the last century when workers needed protection; they are an impediment now.

Janis Dietz, PhD

Professor of Business Administration

The University of La Verne

La Verne, Calif.

An employer who does not pay overtime is just stealing from its employees. This law has been around since 1938. It's not hard to figure out. There is a 100% foolproof way of never losing a suit--just pay every employee overtime and always pay them for the hours they work.

Screen name: Bob

The article "Wage Wars" perfectly encapsulated the mentality of the American worker and the ever-increasing sense of entitlement. The theme seems to be that people want to get paid as much as possible for doing as little as possible. Whatever happened to wanting to work hard to do a good job?

Evan Montgomery Chicago

The whole country needs to reevaluate the priority of work vs. family. Europe is on the right track: a 32-to-35 hour workweek, which allows the potential to employ more of the population, lower stress, and bolster family cohesion.

Screen name: Greg

What the article does not mention is this: It does not even matter if [a company is] in violation [of overtime laws] or not. Believe me, I know. It cost my little family business $75,000 last year to defend ourselves in a bogus suit.... Did these employees ever work overtime? No. Never. But it didn't matter. The game is, it is cheaper to settle than be right. Today I am facing bankruptcy.

Screen name: DE

I am sick and tired of CEOs complaining about paying overtime while they reap more money in a month than most of us do in a year.

Screen name: MC

We all appreciate the low prices of discount stores like Wal-Mart (WMT) but scream injustice when we work an hour more without overtime, even when we are middle management with great perks. Entitlement mentality is what is killing America. And by the way, those lawyers are not your friends.

Screen name: Steel

As an engineer and manager, I've given up large chunks of weekends and I've been called at all hours, to the point of harassment, only to end up struggling to maintain a standard of living equal to my parents'. If a company wants my knowledge 24/7, they should have to pay for it whenever they use it. No different from using the muscles of an assembly-line worker.

Screen name: Abused Middle Manager

I am a medical transcriptionist.... I was not aware that [overtime litigation] was such a fad! Ours is an industry-wide problem.... I usually worked 60 hours a week, then was thanked by my supervisor nagging me about punching in 10 minutes late.

Screen name: Debbie

*All comments identified by screen names are from BusinessWeek.com


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