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Representative worried about small businesses

Representative Charles Ortega (Source KSWO) Representative Charles Ortega (Source KSWO)

ALTUS, OK (KSWO) - One Southwest Oklahoma lawmaker says a new federal rule changing which employees qualify for overtime pay could devastate small businesses, so he's mounting a fight against it.

Starting December 1st, all salaried employees who make less than $47,476 per year must be paid overtime. The current rules only require overtime pay for those making less than $23,660 per year. State Representative Charles Ortega of Altus said Thursday he is enlisting help to block the change from taking effect.

Thursday, Ortega called upon Oklahoma's Attorney General to help fight this ruling and said he already heard back from the attorney general who, from his understanding, is communicating with several other representatives from other states about what to do about the issue.

If an employee works more than 40 hours per week, the new rule will require those employees either be paid at least $47,476 per year or switched to hourly and paid overtime. State Representative Charles Ortega said he thinks the idea doesn't necessarily line up with the needs of the people.

"For the president to suggest that businesses can afford to pay their employees more just kind of brings to mind to me that the president really isn't in touch with main street,” Ortega said. “We have a lot of business owners in Altus, you have them in Lawton, that the margins aren't that big right now.”

Ortega said the problem isn't with paying employees more, as he thinks employees should be paid the wage they earn, but he doesn't think the federal government should dictate what that is. 

"Businesses know what they can afford to pay their employees based on what they make,” Ortega said. “So to have the federal government come in and say 'well we're going to double that minimum threshold and you employers have to meet it’, I don't know what magical pot of money they expect employees and businesses to dip into to cover that difference."

Ortega said if no one opposes the ruling, it will go into effect December 1st with everyone having to deal with the aftermath, which is why he's speaking out now.

"Just to sit back and say 'if this is what you want us to do, we'll do it', regardless of whether I can afford to do it or not afford to do it, it just doesn't make sense at all," Ortega said.

Ortega said he hopes by getting the Attorney General involved he can send the message that this new rule is not one that is conducive to the growth of small businesses.

In addition to raising the salary threshold this year, the new rule would require the threshold to automatically update every three years, based on wage growth.

Copyright 2016 KSWO. All rights reserved.

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