South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott tried to get Donald Trump's pick to run the Labor Department to take a stance on the last president’s overtime rules and offer a specific endorsement for apprenticeship programs, but Alex Acosta refused.
Scott in the past has criticized former President Barack Obama’s adjustments to overtime pay as damaging to the U.S. economy. The overtime rule doubled the requirement threshold for companies to provide overtime pay to employees from $23,660 to $47,476 a year, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
Scott, who referred to Acosta’s previous comments on the rule as a “mixed bag,” asked the nominee to clarify his stance.
Acosta said a cost-of-living adjustment would show that salaries have changed and prices, in general, have shot up since 2004. And he estimated that a straight inflation adjustment would update the threshold to roughly $33,000 per year.
However, he ultimately declined to take a firm stance on the topic.
“I understand that there’s a desire on the part of members of this committee for me to sort of state ‘this is exactly what I’d do,’ but it’s an incredibly complicated rule,” Acosta said. “This is something that gets an update about every 15 years, and for me to sort of, on the fly at a hearing, state with certainty, I don’t think is the responsible approach.”
Acosta added that he understands the threshold increase has an impact on the economy but he would prefer to consult with others in the Labor and Justice Departments to make sure he, as the labor secretary, would have the authority to enact a new overtime rule at all.
Scott warned Acosta that he’d have to make his mind up soon – and indeed should have thought about it already.
“Well I certainly hope that you’ve already invested a lot of time contemplating what you would do as the next secretary as opposed to not having invested any time in that conversation, which will be a very important conversation between the overtime rule and the fiduciary rule,” Scott said. “These are things that you should be contemplating already.”
Scott, who champions apprenticeship programs in South Carolina, also asked Acosta for a potential apprenticeship program model that took into consideration Scott’s own LEAP Act, which would provide employers with tax credits for apprenticeship programs.
Acosta dodged, declining to cite a specific model while praising South Carolina’s apprenticeship programs.
“On some of the qualities that makes it so successful is the integration of the public/private partnership where employers are not involved in name, but they’re deeply involved and they’re directing. These are the types of apprenticeships we need,” Acosta said. “This is what the workforce is demanding and I think that that involvement of employers is very, very important.”