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When you are salaried there's essentially no loss to the employer to mandate to you work any number of hours at any time of day. Likewise, there are no laws applying to adults that prohibit employers from mandating work at any given time of day. So, to answer the question how is this allowed - it's basically a lack of laws that protect you from this practice.
I understand your frustration. The fair labor standards act (which was drafted in the late 30s) and the California wage & hour laws, which were modeled after that law, really were written for a time when there is a competitive labor force. Right now it's a buyer's (employer's) market, and employers know people need jobs. When the law was drafted it was envisioned that managers and professionals such as yourself essentially had bargaining power with their employers by way of being able to quit and join another employer or demand a higher wage. so salaried employees wouldn't need the protection of overtime to avoid being required to work herculean hours. From my experience this has not been the case for a number of years, but the law hasn't changed and attempts to amend the law have been stopped by congress.
So to answer your comments/questions - yes you are essentially at the mercy of your employer. Your description is not binding on the employer in the number of hours it can demand of you. There is no law limiting the number hours per week an employer can require of a salaried worker. The law basically states that you have the right to ask for a raise or look for another job if you are not happy with your hours; those aren't my words they are the legislature's words...back in the 30s anyway.
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