After the overtime rule

November 30, 2016 4:52 pm

Originally set to go into effect Dec. 1, the Department of Labor’s overtime rule would have increased the threshold for overtime-exempt salary workers from $23,660 to $47,476. On Nov. 22, however, U.S. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant temporarily blocked the rule in a suit filed by 21 states and more than 50 business groups.

Although no groups that directly represent the golf industry are plaintiffs in the case, representatives of the industry and many workers within it oppose the overtime rule and see Mazzant’s ruling as a marker of progress.

With less than two months until Donald Trump’s inauguration as president, the overtime rule the Department of Labor drafted under Barack Obama’s presidency is unlikely to ever take effect, but it has left an impression on how the golf industry approaches salaries for crew members such as assistant superintendents and technicians.

Thrown another wrench

At Old Marsh Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., the management and board of governors made the decision to increase second assistant superintendent Ryan Walts’ salary to above the $47,476 threshold, even though the overtime rule is no longer going into effect, says superintendent Anthony Nysse.

Heading into his third year at Old Marsh, Walts is already close to the threshold, Nysse says. The raise, which will go into effect at the beginning of next year, serves as a “Thank you” from the management team at the recently renovated Pete Dye-designed private club.

In recent years, assistant superintendents have been locked into their positions longer than they have in the past, and raises provide more incentive for them to stay and grow in their jobs, Nysse says. “If we have superintendents who are willing to trust our assistants with a golf course while we’re not there, why shouldn’t we pay them enough that they can get by?” he asks. “They don’t have to work check to check, and they can have some money in the bank and look forward to a family and kids and maybe having a house. I just think that’s fair.”

Assistant superintendents have been making roughly the same salary for years, but the pressures and expectations have increased more recently, Nysse says. Many assistants work 60 to 70 hours per week, while clubs pay them set salaries that are lower than what they can – and often should – pay them. At the same time, he says, intervention by the federal government is not necessarily the best means of achieving change.

Jason Tharp, assistant superintendent at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Ga., says the case for higher pay should rely more on individual employees and their companies. “I am opposed to the government intervening like that, but am in favor of employees justifying and earning higher wages, for sure.” he says.

Tharp’s salary was already above the threshold and would not have changed with the rule. However, the management at East Lake will make other changes to its pay structure within the maintenance crew beginning next year, despite the injunction.

The future of the overtime rule

Mazzant’s ruling last week was preliminary, which means the rule still has to go through a trial, says Robert Helland, director of congressional and federal affairs at the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. By issuing the injunction, though, the judge expressed he is likely going to overrule it.

The Department of Labor issued the following statement about the injunction:

“The Department strongly disagrees with the decision by the court, which has the effect of delaying a fair day's pay for a long day's work for millions of hardworking Americans. The Department’s Overtime Final Rule is the result of a comprehensive, inclusive rule-making process, and we remain confident in the legality of all aspects of the rule. We are currently considering all of our legal options.”

With Trump becoming president, though, his administration is unlikely to appeal Mazzant’s ruling, and if it did, the case would be sent to the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the ruling would probably stand, Helland says.

In the meantime, the Republican-majority Congress could either defund or kill the rule outright, Helland says. “If they cut off the funding only, then they could always redo the rule at a later time,” he says. “If they kill it outright under the Congressional Review Act, then they can’t do a rule like it or substantially similar.”

Moving forward in golf

As the owner of Golf Maintenance Solutions, a company that manages six golf properties across the United States, Bill Nauroth notes how cost of living varies greatly between places like San Francisco, Calif., and rural Alabama.

The overtime rule would have affected how Nauroth pays his workers, from assistant superintendents to mechanics. “That’s where decisions become where you decide to go back to an hourly because you can’t afford to pay somebody at that level and have the business be successful,” he says. “It’s not the fact that they’re not a valued employee; it’s more the fact that it doesn’t make business sense to do it.”

In the wake of the overtime rule’s injunction, the company will increase the salary of one employee, but for now has put a hold on other pay changes that the rule would have ushered in, Nauroth says.

Along with minimum wage increases, changes in sick leave and employee scheduling  changes outlined in the Affordable Care Act, government regulation has hindered golf course maintenance operations in a multitude of ways, Nauroth says. “This is one item you can isolate, but you’re really talking about a number of different things that we’re trying to plan for in an act and carry through on a small business level, that it puts constraints on what’s happening,” he says.

Salaries within the industry, such as those for many assistant superintendents and technicians, should increase, Nauroth says, but they should increase incrementally and be based on factors such as cost of living.

By comparison, Tharp says he feels the federal government should not decide who is paid a salary. “I believe the government should only intervene in the private sector in extreme cases, and this is not one of those,” he says.

The overtime rule has led to important discussions and changes within the golf industry, Tharp says, but at the same time, assistant superintendents should work faster, smarter and more efficiently in order to display their value. “Our industry is really tough, but we are the only ones who are going to make it better,” he says.

Patrick Williams is a GCI contributing editor.
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