We discussed here the Department of Labor's new rule that will significantly expand the number of U.S. workers eligible for overtime pay. But, still, a much smaller percentage of U.S. workers are eligible for overtime today than were eligible in the past, and federal law categorically exempts many jobs from entitlement to overtime pay. (Some state laws are more protective.). This article by Danny Vinik explains this phenomenon and that unions no longer protect most of these workers either. Here's an excerpt:
A huge list of American jobs are specifically exempt from overtime. They include airline employees, truckers, and railroad workers, as well as farm laborers, home-based wreathmakers (really) and rural elevator operators. The administration’s overtime regulation estimates that up to 4.5 million workers fall into these categories, including up to 2 million Americans in transportation and 900,000 in agriculture work. Some of these are exempt for obscure reasons dating back to the 1930s, but there's one big shift that has left some workers out in the cold. Decades ago, legal protections for many of them seemed less important—even undesirable—because they had the backing of powerful labor unions to negotiate wages and safe working conditions on their behalf. But the decline of unions have left such workers unprotected in the modern labor force, covered neither by the law nor by a strong union contract.