More than 6 million workers will lose their right to overtime pay starting August 23, the Economic Policy Institute said recently. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the new rules that will deny overtime benefits are intended to simplify regulations concerning overtime eligibility. While various business associations are supportive of the new regulations, many workers are expressing alarm that the revisions fail to protect their rights and will exempt a significant portion of the workforce from receiving overtime benefits. Here is a sample of what American newspapers are saying about overtime pay.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – St. Louis, Missouri
July 16, 2004 – Letter to the Editor – Link not available
"You bust your tail for 50 hours a week to support your family. Your children understand Mommy or Daddy won’t be home because they need the extra money to pay for silly things like food, medicine and birthday presents.
"Now Bush makes it easier for your employer to take money out of your paycheck. You work just as long, spend just as much time away from your family and actually make less for your efforts."
Charleston Gazette – Charleston, W.Va.
July 28, 2004 – Editorial – Link not available
"The U.S. Department of Labor, controlled by President Bush’s appointees, recently promulgated new rules to deny many workers overtime benefits, although both Republicans and Democrats in Congress opposed the Bush plan.
"A recent Washington Post article noted that Bush appointees to the National Labor Relations Board overturned a previous decision (made when Democrats controlled the board) which allowed graduate teaching and research assistants working at private universities to form unions for their common protection.
"Thousands of graduate students had previously joined labor unions to successfully push for better salaries and working conditions under the previous decision.
"Before retiring from West Virginia University, I worked as a full-time classified employee and attended graduate school at WVU for many years. I knew many hardworking graduate students who taught a ‘full load’ to undergraduates and did research for low wages under poor working conditions. Many had families and many barely scraped by on their meager earnings and poor benefits.
"Without law or a union, research and teaching graduate assistants are at the mercy of their chairman and major professor for income, grades, graduation and future references for good-paying jobs.
"Surely our government can do better than to reduce workers’ salaries by denying them overtime pay, and by blocking their right join a union to bargain collectively for a better life, while they work and study as graduate teaching and research assistants (student employees)."
Austin American-Statesman – Austin, Texas
July 24, 2004 – Editorial – Link not available
"They…want to change overtime rules making millions of Americans vulnerable to losing their overtime pay. The administration has inserted a fixed-income dollar amount of $23,660 of annual income. If you earn more than that, you can be worked overtime without being paid extra. This figure is not adjusted automatically for inflation. Eventually no one will qualify for overtime pay. Employers will have no reason to limit workers hours to 40 hours per week. They will then work them longer hours and hire fewer new people.
"On August 23, 2004, this change in overtime will take effect unless Congress stops it. Please write or call your Senators and your Representative."
Sun-Sentinel – Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
July 28, 2004—Editorial – Link not available
"The most sweeping revisions to overtime pay rules since the Great Depression understandably are creating angst among workers. But businesses, not the government, will implement these rules. Employers must do so with an eye on their companies’ needs and the employment marketplace.
"Like any set of government regulations, the new OT rules are loaded with exemptions that cause confusion. What seems clear is that fewer workers will be eligible for more pay when they put in more hours.
"Employer and trade organizations back the revisions, saying they are needed to keep pace with workplace changes over the past 50 years. Labor organizations and pro-union think tanks oppose them, even though unionized workers covered by collective bargaining contracts are exempt from the revisions.
"But Beltway debaters miss a key point: The rules don’t prevent a company from compensating an employee for extra hours put in the line of duty.
"That’s an important distinction. The U.S. unemployment rate stands at 5.6 percent. That’s not far from the point — under 5 percent — where the labor pool gets stretched so thin that businesses can’t find qualified, dependable and conscientious employees.
"That means companies better think carefully before cutting back on OT pay, and losing their hardest working employees to competitors.
"That goes for nurses, especially. The U.S. health care industry doesn’t have enough nurses as it is. Radically changing pay structures by cutting these valued care-providers out of the OT line-up, as the new rules permit, risks worsening the shortage.
"The government may be right. The new OT rules might make life simpler for employers, and make it cheaper for them to operate their businesses. But opting for the simpler, cheaper life could cost penny-pinching companies later on in the more competitive, complex global economy."
Dallas Morning News – Dallas, Texas
July 21, 2004 – Letter to the Editor – Link not available
"According to the Department of Labor, registered nurses, due to their education and skills, could be classified as exempt and lose the right to overtime pay.
"The public thinks there is a nursing shortage now? Just wait."
The Dayton Daily News – Dayton, Fla.
July 14, 2004 – Letter to the Editor – Link not available
"Why won’t President George W. Bush stop conserving those compassionate values he goes on about and quit his unpopular assault on overtime pay? If he obtains his goal of exempting millions of workers from overtime, some earning as little as $23,000 a year, how many will see their paycheck shrink?
"Both the House and the Senate initially voted against it, and many thousands of Americans have contacted the White House expressing dismay.
"But Bush remains undaunted.
"If concerned men and women don’t stop it, on Aug. 23, Bush’s overtime pay take-away goes into effect. Families rely on every bit of their paychecks to take care of their everyday needs. Often, overtime pay may be the difference between keeping one’s head above water and drowning.
"Members of Congress are deliberating now before a final vote. Call them and let them know we aren’t asking for manna from heaven, just a little honest pay for honest work."
For more information on overtime pay, see this American Progress report.