The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, September 17, 2004

House snubs Bush, votes to overturn new overtime rules

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

A political hot-potato got a little hotter on Sept. 9, as the U.S. House voted 223-193 to bar the Bush Administration from enforcing rules that would strip overtime rights from up to six million workers.

The move was a great victory for organized labor, which has been fighting President Bush at every turn in order to kill the overtime regulations. The House vote was made with 22 Republicans breaking ranks and voting with Dems to kill the measure. The Senate, which only has a slim majority of Republicans, is also expected to side with organized labor and oppose Bush’s bill.

The new rules, strongly pushed by the Bush Administration, went into effect Aug. 23. The changes in the Federal Labor Standards Act guarantee overtime pay to workers who earn less than $23,600 per year, but expressly allows employers to deny or withdraw overtime pay from workers who earn between $23,600 and $100,000.

Those workers can easily be reclassified by their employers as “supervisors” or “executives,” even if they only have the authority to direct employees to clean bathrooms or mop the floor in a restaurant. Re-classifying those workers makes them ineligible for overtime. As a result, there would soon be “an explosion of executives” in the U.S. workforce, predicted Ross Eisenbrey of the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute.

A Labor Department attorney said that Congress would “sow legal confusion” if the Senate passes the measure since the rules have already been placed into rulebooks. The Wall Street Journal said at the very least, the House vote “ensures the issue will remain alive politically going into the November elections. At a time when Republicans are courting middle class voters with the promise of more tax cuts, Democrats see the overtime dispute as a powerful issue to separate themselves and their presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry, from President Bush.”

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry said, “Today’s House vote … was a huge victory for working Americans and underscores the bipartisan opposition to George Bush’s war on overtime pay. Overtime pay is the lifeline that allows millions of working families to keep their heads above water in an economy sinking under a rising tide of health-care and energy costs.”

The House rolled the overtime amendment into a $492.3 spending bill. The Senate could vote on the issue this month. Republicans opposing the amendment said they would seek to eliminate the pro-overtime measure from a new bill. In the past,, President Bush has promised to veto any measure that would kill the new overtime rules.

“It’s the middle class that built this country,” said Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee. “Now along comes the Bush Administration and they think the middle class is the enemy.”

The action on Sept. 9 marks the second time the House has voted to stop the administration from cutting overtime pay since Bush introduced the measure in March 2003. The Senate has made three similar votes, all in favor of workers’ right to overtime.

“Today’s vote sends a strong message to the White House: America’s workers, leaders and communities do not support his overtime pay cut, and President Bush should back off his threats to veto this important protection for workers’ overtime pay,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeny. “The ball is now in the president’s court. We will continue to keep up the pressure to translate today’s win into a larger victory in the battle to save overtime pay.”