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Our time has value — it’s time to restore overtime protections | Guest Opinion

I enjoy working in hotels. I love anticipating the needs of my guests and making people feel welcome as they visit a new place or go on a family adventure. I’m so invested in this field that in my spare time I’m taking classes to work toward my hospitality management degree. Unfortunately, Washington state’s current overtime rules make it hard for people like me to find a work-life balance that allows us to be good at our jobs while still spending time with our families.

Thankfully, that’s all about to change. Earlier this year, Gov. Jay Inslee’s Department of Labor and Industries proposed restoring the state overtime threshold — which hasn’t been updated in more than 40 years — to 2.5 times the state minimum wage. When the new rule goes into full effect in 2026, that means if you earn roughly $80,000 or less per year, your employer will have to pay you time-and-a-half for every minute you work over 40 hours a week.

This isn’t some shocking new burden on employers. In fact, the proposed overtime threshold would actually be less than the federal threshold from the middle of the last century, when American workers like myself were at the center of the economy. For decades, employers have been able to exploit staff by handing out meaningless “manager” titles and then forcing those employees to work long hours for no extra pay.

This issue has real effects for real workers every day. I haven’t had to work overtime for free, but I’ve had it easier than many. One colleague I know in a management position of the kind I’m earning a degree for has often had to stay late or show up early to clean rooms on her own — at no extra pay, remember — because the hotel doesn’t hire enough staff to actually do the work.

Really, though, who can blame them? Why would an employer bother to hire more workers when a “manager” can work 80 hours a week in exchange for 40 hours of pay? After all, the hotel chain’s CEO doesn’t have to live with, or even see the real costs of that labor: lost time with family, reduced time to recover from a physically strenuous job, and nothing to show for her sacrifice.

I’m going to school to make a better life for myself and my family. Isn’t that what pundits love to tell workers? Improve yourselves, work hard, and you’ll eventually be repaid with higher wages and a better life? That’s the American Dream, but for too many people it’s just that — a dream.

The reality is that my industry has exploited managers as cheap labor for decades now. And though I’ve worked hard and devoted my personal time to improving my skills, my degree might put me in a worse position than when I started. I want to be able to buy a home, be present to raise my son, and contribute to my community. Without a restored overtime threshold, my dedication and hard work could mean I lose quality time with my family in exchange for long, unpaid hours at the hotel.

I work hard to add value to my guests’ experience and build the hotel’s business. I’m always ready to put on a friendly face and pull extra shifts on especially busy weeks during tourist season; but I should be paid in exchange for my time. Employers make it sound as if they’ll be pigeon-holed into an untenable situation with the proposed rules, and I don’t buy it. Under the restored threshold, if my employer doesn’t want to pay me time-and-a-half in exchange for my overtime, they could either pay me more than $80,000 a year, send me home at the end of a regular workweek, or hire more workers at regular pay to perform the required labor.

My employers and I both agree that guests at our hotel deserve the best service possible. But for too long, Washington workers haven’t been given the resources they need to do the work that they love. Restoring the state’s overtime is a huge step toward affirming the idea that our time counts, and that hard work really does pay.

Kenneth Buxton is a single father living in Richland. He has worked in the hospitality industry for 12 years.

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