Monday, the Bush administration will take away
the right to receive overtime pay from millions
of employees in a broad range of occupations,
from office workers in financial services to embalmers,
nursery school teachers and restaurant chefs and
assistant managers. Despite four disapproving
votes in Congress, the Bush administration is
using its power and authority to accomplish the
biggest rollback in employee rights in more than
half a century.
administration denies it is weakening overtime
rights and claims to be taking overtime pay from
workers earning $100,000 a year or more. But the
new regulations have their biggest impact on employees
earning far less. Salaried employees earning as
little as $24,000 a year are subject to the new
rules, which make it far easier for employers
to deny overtime pay.
might shock people to think the government would
lie to them, but there is no nice way to describe
the administration's campaign of disinformation
around the new overtime regulations.
Elaine Chao's spin -- that she is only interested
in clarity and helping low-wage workers -- is
belied by the regulations themselves. According
to three top experts on the Fair Labor Standards,
virtually every change in the new regulations
will weaken or eliminate the right to overtime
pay. These nonpartisan experts, first appointed
in the Reagan administration, include the Department's
top two Fair Labor Standards lawyers for most
of the last 20 years and the top career official
responsible for enforcing the law during that
same period. They also conclude the new regulations
are so confusing and self-contradictory that they
will provoke additional court litigation.
only at 10 of the dozens of changes in the law,
six million employees will lose the right to overtime
pay. Those hit hardest will be low-level supervisors,
who will be classified as executives by the new
rules, even if they spend 90 percent of their
time doing the same kind of labor as the two employees
they supervise. Team leaders in factories, construction
and office settings will lose overtime rights,
and hundreds of thousands of employees without
a college education will be called professionals
and denied overtime pay.
is a corruption of the Fair Labor Standards Act
and its exemptions, by which Congress intended
to ensure that all but a narrow class of well-paid
top officials and professional employees would
get time-and-a-half pay when they work long hours.
Bush administration has sided with employer groups,
who oppose regulation and resent having to pay
extra for overtime work. They want the flexibility
to work employees 50 or 60 hours a week without
paying any more than they would for 40. One restaurant
chain worked low-paid assistant managers 85 or
90 hours a week without any additional pay. The
new rules will make that kind of abuse legal.
we approach Labor Day, founded as part of the
original campaign for an 8-hour workday and a
40-hour work week, it is critical to speak out
against these new regulations. Unless Congress
can block these regulations this fall, millions
will lose overtime pay and find themselves working
longer hours. It took 100 years of struggle to
pass the Fair Labor Standards Act and create a
40-hour work week. It has taken the Bush administration
less than four years to turn back the clock.
EISENBREY is vice president and policy director
of the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit
and nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.
Write to him at Economic Policy Institute, 1660
L Street NW, Suite 1200, Washington, D.C. 20036.
Posted: August 20, 2004