Democrats, unions decry proposed overtime changes

Workers fear more work and less pay underthe president's proposal.
MIAMI (AP) -- There are days when Mike Farrar has to get to his job at 4 a.m. to keep up. At that hour, the phones don't ring constantly and the e-mails don't flood in, so he can get a head start on the day's work.
The 50-year-old civilian worker at the Naval Air Depot in Jacksonville, Fla., designs flight-critical parts for military aircraft. And, most times, Navy officials need those plans urgently. Sometimes, his work day stretches to 12 hours, or he comes to the office on weekends.
"There's just not enough time in the day," he said.
Farrar has one consolation for his extra work: overtime pay, which totaled about $13,000 last year.
But now, Farrar and millions of other mostly white-collar workers could be in danger of losing that pay while still having to work the extra hours under a broadly worded Bush administration proposal to overhaul the nation's overtime rules. Democrats and labor unions are fighting the proposal.
Farrar said it's not just the lost pay that bothers him, but he worries that if he could be forced to work even more than he now does, mistakes in designs could slip through.
Administration's argument
The Bush administration maintains that the new rules will merely give companies the option to cut overtime pay for certain workers. Many employers may choose to continue paying for work above 40 hours a week for other reasons, a Labor Department official said.
"Employers often want to retain the best employees to remain competitive," said Victoria Lipnic, an assistant Labor secretary. "So, just as the employers pay these employees well above minimum wage and provide many employee benefits ... they can choose to continue to pay them overtime."
Although the changes would not take away overtime pay from those guaranteed it under union contracts, many workers fear they will lose extra pay once those contracts expire.
Labor officials hope to finalize the proposal early next year. Lipnic said the rules need to be updated because some of them are from 1949 and have complex and outdated descriptions of who should get overtime pay.
Who doesn't get OT pay
Under U.S. law, executive, administrative, professional and sales employees do not get overtime pay. But changes in the economy have resulted in a wide range of new jobs, making it difficult to tell who fits in those categories.
The proposed rule changes also could eliminate overtime pay in a wide array of other occupations -- from nurses to cooks to retail managers -- if they are deemed to be "learned professionals" in the fields.
The rules do not offer workers exempt from overtime pay any guarantees of a 40-hour workweek, said Alexander Colvin, an assistant professor of labor studies and industrial relations at Pennsylvania State University.
But Lipnic said they have other protections.
For example, employees who do not qualify for overtime wages must be paid the same amount every week, even if they work less than 40 hours a week or the quality of their work is below standard.
Democrats, labor unions and many workers disagree, and say abuses by employers would only grow under the proposal.
Both sides also disagree over how many workers could lose overtime pay: The Bush administration says a net of 656,000 workers could lose out, while Democrats and labor unions counter 8 million or more would lose their rights to overtime.

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