Pine Straw Gatherers is …
A. an indie band that wowed the audience at Pitchfork last summer
B. the Junior A affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs
C. the latest sensation in the academic literature of cultural anthropology
D. none of the above
In the midst of the Christmas rush, the U.S. Department of Labor issued an Administrator’s opinion on the pine straw industry, including whether pine straw gatherers are exempt agricultural employees or exempt forestry-lumber employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). If you are in this industry (and it is a real industry), call: you will want a full text copy of the Department’s guidance. Everyone else can take this opinion as a wake-up call.
No one rereads the FLSA. It is a Christmas tree statute (all puns intended): a very simple framework of 3 rules (pay the minimum wage, pay 1.5X the regular rate for hours of overtime, and don’t let kids work) that is decorated with the oddest collection of ornaments: exemptions that make no sense as a matter of labor economics or public policy but highlight the legistlative process of ubi est mea (“where’s mine?”).
Pine straw gatherers who work for an employer with 8 or less employees are exempt from overtime. So too are any employees enaged in the processing of maple sap into syrup; employees at movie theaters; and lots of others (including radio and TV announcers in cities of less than 100,000 population). See, Section 13(b)(9, 15, 27 and 28).
In the rush to define and over-analyze the more common exemptions for executives, professionals and administrative employees, the rest of the statute gets less attention than the worst indie band or Junior A hockey team. For those who love hockey, rock, and searching for the perfect exemption, that is lamentable but correctable. The FLSA is short; it can be read while the band is warming up or between periods at the game.
So, stay tuned: new developments on FLSA interpretations and exemptions will surely be on the horizon for the Department of Labor.