Proposed Labor Law Changes Could Mean Less Overtime Pay

JANUARY 26, 2004 -- Posted at 10:45pm

JONESBORO, AR - The Bush Administration is trying to overhaul labor laws, but those who rely on overtime say the changes go overboard.

Electricians represent one of the many labor professions that require workers to travel long distances to find work. Hotel rooms, gasoline prices and meals on the road quickly add up.

"Overtime is almost a necessity to be able to survive," said Steve Morgan, Business Manager of Electrical Workers Local #1516.

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 defines the types of jobs that qualify workers for overtime pay. Labor Department leaders said the act needs to be revised and updated. The proposals were prompted by employers who complained that they were being hit hard financially with lawsuits filed by workers who felt they had been denied overtime.

The survival of millions Americans in the form of time-and-a-half pay could be in jeopardy. One point three million workers could become eligible for overtime for the first time this year. Controversy has developed regarding the Labor Department's suggestions over ways companies can get around some of the overtime: maintaining a 40 hour work week, raising pay to the new $22,100 annual threshold (making workers ineligible for overtime pay) or making payroll adjustments so that their hourly rate with overtime equals their former salary.

Morgan explained, "We oppose any reclassification of any kind to create loopholes."

"It's outrageous, " said Marion Berry (D), U.S. Representative from Arkansas' 1st District.

The House and the Senate voted down the labor changes.

"I voted against that bill. I think it was the wrong thing to do," added Berry. "I don't think you should take overtime pay away from working people. I just think that's not fair."

President Bush reworked the legislation and sent it back through Capitol Hill with additional stipulations in order to get it passed. According to the congressman, some of them are outrageous.

"Like a $50 million dollar indoor rain forest that they gave to Senator (Chuck) Grassley to build in Iowa," Berry said.

Steve Morgan has signed petitions through his union's international headquarters protesting the changes. He said he'll do whatever it takes to ensure the Fair Labor Standards Act remains fair.

"The corporations couldn't do anything without the working people," Morgan commented, "and this is just a slap in the face to the working people to take away their right to overtime."

The only state where workers likely won't be effected is California. That state's labor rules already offer most workers more overtime protection than the current and proposed federal regulations. Changes to that law were proposed March of 2003. A final ruling is expected to be issued in March.