While foreign policy has been his main area of focus since getting elected to Congress in 2016, U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., has also been going to bat for travel agencies, calling on the federal government to cut down on its regulations.
Back in May 2017, Rooney, now the vice chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee despite being a congressional freshman, brought out the “Travel Agent Retail Fairness Act” which, according to the congressman’s office, rolls back regulations “which would remove a regulatory block and strike travel agencies from the blacklist that prohibits them from utilizing an exemption from federal overtime rules. To qualify for this exemption, an employee must work at an establishment ‘recognized as retail.’”
Rooney office’s noted that these regulations have been in place since the Nixon administration.
“In 1970, the Department of Labor (DOL) established a ‘blacklist’ of industries arbitrarily blocked from the exemption, including travel agencies, with no accompanying notice that explained how those industries were chosen,” Rooney’s office noted. “The intent of the exemption was to cover services to the public, involving sales in small quantities and no manufacturing, provided by an employee in those establishments makes at least one and a half times the applicable minimum wage and in which more than half of the employee’s total earnings consist of commissions, a standard most travel agencies meet.”
Rooney made the case for his bill when he brought it out last year.
“Eliminating harmful regulations on our small business community is a key component of economic growth and job creation,” Rooney said. “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.”
This could have a big impact in the Sunshine State with more than 10,000 travel agents in Florida leading to more than $550 million to the state’s economy. Most travel agencies are small businesses with 80 percent of them employing less than five people.
Despite having a dozen cosponsors, the bill has lingered in the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee for more than a year now. The bill does have solid support from the Florida delegation as Republican U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Matt Gaetz and John Rutherford and Democrat U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz have cosponsored the bill.
Rooney doubled down on his proposal in recent days, sending a letter to U.S. Labor Sec. Alexander Acosta on the matter.
“Travel agencies are the quintessential 21st century retail establishment,” Rooney said on Friday. “With great innovation and state of the art facilities, these organizations, and the men and women who work at them, are on the forefront of local economies across the country, helping American families plan their dream vacations.
“This is why it is unfair for travel agents to lack the overtime requirements other retail employees have under the Retail or Service Establishment exemption of the Fair Labor Standards Act,” Rooney added. “I led this bipartisan letter to Secretary Acosta to highlight the critical need for travel agents to be removed from this unwarranted list. Our hard-working travel agents deserve the same treatment as all other retail employees.”
Kevin Derby can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com.