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8/26/2004

Its not going to be a happy Labor Day

It’s an early Labor Day SURPRISE! Congratulations, if you make between $23,660 and $100,000, you have just very likely lost your right to overtime pay, courtesy of the Bush administration.

If this comes as news to you, thank your friendly media, who are much too busy reporting lies abut John Kerry’s heroism in Vietnam to bother with this story affecting your life. But next time you hear someone say, “Oh, I just don’t care much about politics,” you might want to recall this particular connection — especially if it means you have to go out and get another job.

This stunner is brought to you by President Bush and his big-business campaign donors. The Senate has voted twice to stop the change, so there’s no point in raising hell with them. The House of Representatives, the “people’s house,” dodged the question. So Bush’s Department of Labor just up and issued hundreds of pages of new rules on who gets overtime pay.

The administration contends there is some good news buried in the big pile of bad — that 1.3 million of the working poor, making between $8,000 and $23,000, will be eligible for overtime for the first time. That would be good news except a study by the Economic Policy Institute says only one in seven of those workers actually works overtime.

Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO estimates 6 million people will lose overtime. It’s the people in the middle who are getting screwed.

It is true that the numbers on who benefits and who loses are not yet exact. There are over 500 pages of new regulations involved here, and a good bit of it will have to be thrashed out in court. Nevertheless, there is no question about the overall effect of the new regs: The AFL-CIO is up in arms, and the Chamber of Commerce is just ecstatic about this.

I can only assume the lack of news coverage on this issue stems from the fact that most journalists are unaware that they are among those who are about to lose overtime rights. Chefs, cooks, sous chefs, computer workers, nursery school teachers, many nurses, funeral directors and embalmers, “team leaders,” some cops — to find out if you are among the lucky 6 million, you can go to the AFL’s website workingamerica.org. You can email questions to a wage-and-hour specialist under its “Ask a Lawyer” feature.

Of course, employers are standing ready to promote everybody and his dog to “management” so they won’t be eligible for overtime under the new rules. All they have to do is rename the busboy “assistant night manager.”

Another new trick redefines “salary.” Under the old rules, a salaried worker was not entitled to overtime — but now “salary” can be defined as an hourly wage. Under the new regs, if you spend even a fraction of your time on supervisory or “leadership” tasks, you’re out of luck on overtime. And of course penalties for employers who illegally dock the pay of salaried workers have been reduced.

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa has put up a rearguard political action against this coup and continues to fight. The new rules went into effect Aug. 23, but they can still be blocked or repealed by Congress. In the House, Republican leaders have refused to let the issue come up for debate.

As usual, there is much spin and counter-spin about this, but it seems especially pointless to blow smoke — the facts are actually quite clear. But then, they’re quite clear on John Kerry’s war record, too, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped that idiotic “debate.”

In this case, however, the reality check is in the numbers on your paycheck. Good luck now and in the future on this one. Oh and do please relish the Bush line that this is a gift to workers because comp time will give you more time with family.

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