- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2003

The Senate voted yesterday to block overtime-pay changes proposed by the Bush administration despite a veto threat from the president.

The Bush administration says the proposed changes would make more low-income workers eligible for overtime pay. Opponents say employers would be able to classify more workers as exempt from overtime, thereby depriving them of more pay for more work.

A Democratic-led amendment passed by a 54-45 vote to block the rule changes, which already have been approved by the House.

Six moderate Republican senators also voted for the amendment. Differences between House and Senate bills now must be worked out by a conference committee.

“The Bush administration’s proposal is not only antiworker and antifamily, it is bad economic policy,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who sponsored the amendment. “It will take money out of the pockets of hard-working Americans and it will not create one new job.”

Employer groups say changes in overtime rules are needed to update outdated and confusing standards in the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act.

“The whole question of mandated paperwork is always a problem,” said Bob Grow, spokesman for the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

The Labor Department said only about 644,000 workers would lose overtime pay under the new rules. However, 1.3 million low-income workers would gain overtime rights by raising the minimum pay level for which overtime must be paid to $22,100. The current minimum is $8,060.

Larry Lorber, a Washington lawyer who has represented the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said current overtime regulations need to be simplified.

“You need lawyers and consultants and all the rest to determine who’s exempt, and that’s crazy,” Mr. Lorber said. The Bush administration proposal “was simply an effort to modernize something that was long overdue.”

Labor unions and other opponents say as many as 8 million workers would unfairly be stripped of overtime protection.

Union leaders are using the issue as fuel for their effort to oust Mr. Bush in the 2004 presidential election.

“His time would be better spent putting Americans back to work instead of trying to rob the paychecks of millions of hard-working men and women,” said Gerald McEntee, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees president.

The Senate amendment was included in a $138 billion spending bill for U.S. health, labor and education programs.

The White House said President Bush’s advisers recommended he veto the entire spending bill if the amendment was attached to it.

The Labor Department says Mr. Bush’s proposed rule changes would affect only white-collar employees but not manual workers, firefighters, police officers or nurses.

The Fair Labor Standards Act exempts some administrative, professional and executive workers from overtime pay. The Bush administration proposal would expand the list of exempt employees. Among them would be administrative or professional workers earning more than $65,000 a year.

Eric Siegel, president of the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association, said the proposed Bush administration rule changes reduce opportunities for workers to get paid fairly.

“The legislation is being fostered only to be a pro-business piece of legislation without thought or regard for average workers,” Mr. Siegel said.

Republican senators who voted to block overtime rule changes were Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Ted Stevens of Alaska, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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