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Overtime Change Benefits Workers

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Overtime Change Benefits Workers
By Congressman Joe Pitts

In a recent letter from Democrat activist Jesse Jackson to the Chicago Sun-Times, he accused the Bush Administration of making changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that would "deprive millions of workers of overtime pay." Similarly, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa echoed these arguments at a rally staged by the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., when these changes went into effect on Aug. 23. These fears are unfounded and the information being circulated by liberals, such as Sen. Harkin and Jesse Jackson, is misleading.

Despite media and partisan reports to the contrary, the Department of Labor's (DOL) FairPay Overtime initiative changes the FLSA to actually strengthen overtime pay protections and benefit American workers; that's why I supported these changes when they passed the House in H.R. 2673 on December 8, 2003, by a vote of 242 to 176. Unfortunately, the misinformation being supplied to the American public is not only confusing jobholders; it also could encourage dishonest employers to interpret the law to their advantage, to the detriment of their employees.

Perhaps the most commonly promoted myth about the final rule is that millions of American workers will lose overtime pay protections. The fact of the matter is that the changes strengthen overtime protection for 6.7 million workers; this includes 1.3 million low-wage workers who were ineligible for overtime under the old law. Under the old law, the minimum salary level for overtime exemption was $8,060 per year; however, the new law increases that minimum for workers earning $23,660 per year. According to estimates, 107,000 employees earning $100,000 and performing exempt duties might be re-categorized as exempt-a figure far lower than the "millions" cited by liberal opponents.

At ALCOA Mill Products in Lancaster, a 1.3 million square foot plant specializing in fabricated sheet/plate aluminum products, the new overtime regulations have not affected any of its current 890 employees.

Steve Fries, manager of human resources development and communications at the Lancaster plant, said his plant requested an interpretation of the new law from ALCOA counsel, and under the new regulations, employees are eligible to receive overtime pay as usual.

"Nothing has changed for ALCOA Lancaster Mill Products," said Fries.

Additionally, contrary to misleading statements from Sen. Harkin, Sears, Roebuck and Co. issued a press release this week correcting the mistakes in a Chicago Sun-Times article referenced publicly by Sen. Harkin. It stated that due to the new overtime pay rules, roughly 1,900 employees at Sears now classified as exempt will be re-classified as non-exempt and become eligible for overtime pay. Additionally, "no Sears associate is losing eligibility for overtime due to the new regulations."

The final rule clarifies and updates the FLSA's old regulations that were written in 1949, which referenced outdated jobs, such as keypunch operators. Never before has the FLSA guaranteed the rights of "blue collar" workers to receive overtime pay; the new rule now guarantees for the first time that "blue collar" workers have a right to overtime pay.

Contrary to the misinformation being circulated, American workers will benefit from this change in overtime regulations. Still, it is important that employers and employees fully understand the new regulations and know how they may be affected.

For more in-depth information, I recommend the following U.S Department of Labor Web site that summarizes the new regulations: under "FairPay Overtime Rules."

The new overtime pay protections serve as another example of the Bush Administration's effort to grow the economy, create new jobs, protect existing jobs, and improve the standard of living for all Americans.

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