New Bill Aims to Remove Travel Agencies From Overtime Blacklist

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New legislation aims to roll back a regulation dating from 1970 barring travel agencies from taking advantage of an exemption from federal overtime rules.

Congressman Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) has introduced The Travel Agent Retail Fairness Act, which would strike travel agencies from a blacklist that prohibits them from using and exemption from federal overtime rules.

In order to take advantage of the overtime rule exemption, an employee must work at an establishment “recognized as retail.” The Department of Labor (DOL), however, established a “blacklist” in 1970 that blocked several industries from the exemption, including travel agencies.

“Eliminating harmful regulations on our small business community is a key component of economic growth and job creation,” said Congressman Rooney in a written release announcing the new legislation. “The idea that travel agencies 'lack a retail concept' and therefore must be subject to federal overtime rules is arbitrary and overreaching. The exemption travel agencies are seeking is in line with similar industries and should be granted immediately.”

The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) has weighed in in support of the new legislation.

“Not only do their employees necessarily work irregular hours helping clients facing travel disruptions, but travel agencies are the very picture of retail businesses and we think it’s indefensible that agencies are denied use of this exemption from overtime rules,” said Zane Kerby, ASTA’s president and CEO, in a written release. “We are incredibly grateful to Congressman Rooney for taking up this fight on behalf of the 48 ASTA members in Florida’s 19th Congressional District and the broader industry, and will do everything in our power to see this bill through to enactment.”

The act directs the Secretary of Labor to revise its regulations to remove travel agencies from the blacklist within 90 days. In the interim, the bill states that “a travel agency shall not be considered an establishment having no retail concept” for the purposes of the RSE exemption. Following its introduction, the bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

“We commend Congressman Rooney for his leadership on this issue, which will provide a measure of regulatory relief to local small businesses while supporting an integral part of the broader travel industry so critical to Florida’s economy,” said Eben Peck, ASTA’s senior vice president, government and public affairs, in a written release. “We agree with Mr. Rooney that travel agencies should have an opportunity to claim the RSE exemption if they qualify for it. This is a fight worth fighting.”

Getting travel agencies removed from the blacklist has been a legislative goal for ASTA for quite some time. In a press call with Travel Agent earlier this year, ASTA said that it had submitted a petition to get agencies removed from the list that was denied in the final days of the Obama administration. Following the election, the organization decided to try again.

“We still find it objectionable, and we have a plan this year with a presumably friendlier Department of Labor,” Peck said at the time. “We’ve already started having meetings on Capitol Hill, and their advice is to refile the petition once the new Labor Secretary gets in.”

In its latest announcement ASTA said that the Travel Agent Retail Fairness Act will be at the top of its list of policy issues to discuss with Members of Congress during the upcoming ASTA Legislative Day on June 7, 2017. Travel agents wishing to attend can register here before May 26.