News & Commentary

March 7, 2023

Iman Masmoudi

Iman Masmoudi is a student at Harvard Law School.

Studies show an increase in the use of “manager” titles to skirt overtime pay; the Whitney Museum of American Art reaches an agreement with its unionized workers; and a history of forced labor comes to the fore in Korea-Japan relations.

The NYTimes reports on a growing set of studies that are uncovering a deceptive employment practice keeping workers from their overtime pay. Federal law does not require overtime pay for salaried employees making above $35K in managerial positions. Over the past several years, many employers have responded by mislabeling rank-and-file workers as managers or assistant managers. A paper by Lauren Cohen, Umit Gurun, & N. Bugra Ozel found “widespread evidence” of this practice, and noted that at the $35K threshold, there is almost a five-fold increase in managerial titles, including “Director of First Impression” for positions akin to front desk assistants, for example. The paper also shows that firm bargaining power, financial constraints, and overtime penalties all increased the frequency of such practices. The results lead to an estimated 13.5% wages avoided for firms who employ this practice.

After a year of sometimes tense bargaining, including demonstrations at Museum banquets and galas, the Whitney Museum of American Art has reached an agreement with its workers which won 90% ratification. Museum workers have continued a broad unionization push over the past five years across the arts sector, including at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Jewish Museum. The successful completion of this negotiation process is yet another hurdle passed for organizing arts workers, who said they felt unappreciated and ignored. The agreement includes significant pay raises, health and safety provisions, and a one time signing bonus.

Decades-old forced labor perpetrated by Japanese companies against South Koreans continues to animate negotiations between the countries as they attempt strengthen their security cooperation against North Korean aggression. Victims of the forced labor programs and their families insist that Japan has yet to properly compensate them and are asking for a fresh apology. Japan believes its 1965 treaty with Korea settled compensation issues, but recent lawsuits against Japanese companies have led to new judgements for a group of forced labor victims. The Korean President has announced he will instead pursue a state-run foundation from Korea’s own finances to compensate the victims, but the case provides yet another example of the enduring importance of labor issues to global peace and to enduring victims’ pain.

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