- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Congress is trying to respond to workers' demands for more flexible schedules by changing labor laws to allow hourly workers to be compensated with paid time off instead of overtime pay.
Legislation scheduled to be introduced today by Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, is intended to respond to surveys of workers who say they want more time off, even if they must sacrifice some pay.
"People in the workplace are telling Congress there is a need to find a better balance between work and family," said Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for Mr. Gregg, who is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Similar legislation is scheduled to be introduced in the House later this month. President Bush supported the change in the Fair Labor Standards Act during his 2000 election campaign.
"Comp time" legislation has been proposed before by Republicans in the House and Senate but did not pass.
This year's legislation faces better odds.Republicans gained a majority in Congress after the November elections. In addition, Mr. Bush has notified the Labor Department to support the legislation this year.
"This is part of his proposal to help parents have more time with their children," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
Labor unions are cautioning that the proposals do not go far enough in limiting the hours employers can assign workers.
The Bush administration is also examining the Depression-era labor laws to redefine which workers would be eligible for overtime pay. Some workers currently classified as salaried would be reclassified as hourly employees, which would allow themto receive overtime pay.
"Our preliminary economic analysis indicates there are a substantial number of people who will be eligible for overtime who were not eligible for overtime under the existing rules," said Mark Wilson, a Labor Department deputy assistant secretary.
About 71.4 million workers are covered by current law that requires they be paid at 1 times their hourly wage if they work more than 40 hours in one week. Another 53 million are salaried, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Under one 1975 standard in the labor code, workers earning more than $8,060 per year could be classified as salaried employees and ineligible for overtime pay.
The Labor Department also is trying to simplify the language of its codes to make it easier for employers to understand which workers should be paid overtime.
"The current regulations are over 30,000 words," Mr. Wilson said. "It's just not easy to do."
Rep. Judy Biggert, Illinois Republican, plans to introduce a bill this month that would give employers the option of reaching an agreement with employees to reimburse their overtime work with paid compensation time. If they do not reach an agreement for time off, employers would be required to pay a higher wage scale for more than 40 hours per week of labor.
"Today's workers demand flexibility in their hours, compensation and working environment," said Jeff Trexel, spokesman for Mrs. Biggert
"Allowing comp time in the private sector responds to that need," she said.
Mrs. Biggert is a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
Mr. Bush proposed giving workers the option of 1 hours of paid time off for every hour of overtime.
"This already is done in state government," said Randy Johnson, vice president of labor for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "It works well."
However, the AFL-CIO labor federationwarned that removing overtime-pay requirements could lead some employers to assign excessive work to employees.
"Overtime pay implicitly acts as a control in assigning overtime work," said Chris Owens, public-policy director for the AFL-CIO.
There's nothing in federal law that prevents an employer from requiring a worker to work as many hours as the employer assigns, she said. "The comp-time provision wouldn't change that at all."
Current labor codes balance several factors in determining who should be paid overtime, such as duties and pay scale. Labor Department officials said they also are trying to modernize some of the duties listed in the codes. Among them are jobs such as keypunch operators, straw bosses, legmen and gang leaders.

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