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Bush Overtime


American workers who rely on overtime pay to fatten their stagnant paychecks—at least those who pay attention to such things—have probably still not recovered from last November’s shock. That’s when Congressional resistance to George Bush’s overtime “rule changes” collapsed.
At the time the AFL-CIO had promised an advertising and letter-writing campaign to re-stiffen various Congressional spines on the controversial issue. At stake are changes to overtime laws that Bush’s Labor Department downplays, claiming only a half-million or so white collar workers making over $65,000 would be affected—which is to say, have their existing overtime rights chipped away by their corporate employers.
The AFL-CIO, citing a study by the Economic Policy Institute, sees it differently, saying upwards of 8 million employees nationwide—nearly all of them middle class—would see reductions in overtime eligibility and pay.
The changes include broad reclassifications of workers making between $22,100 and $65,000 per annum, who might suddenly find themselves termed “managers”—at least for the sake of reducing their overtime. Additional reclassification would determine which educational or training backgrounds would result in loss of overtime benefits (medical therapists, as one small example, might be affected negatively). Much work might then be transferred from remaining overtime-eligible employees to those who can no longer collect it.
It’s the potential for moving jobs around that Californians—especially those working in the film biz—might want to keep an eye on. For indeed, while the rollbacks represent the now-expected assault on workers that have typified the current administration, a recent analysis of the law in the Sacramento Bee reveals that California may feel a reduced impact even if the changes are allowed to stand.
California labor law, the article noted, is “ambiguous” on how workers can become exempt from overtime rules, including “whether workers use independent judgment and discretion in their jobs.” Jokes about studio groupthink aside, that Golden State ambiguity, and other union/guild protections, would probably keep most film crew workers safe from seeing overtime stripped away. In any event, Hollywood isn’t really set up to run without it.
But, given the already raw issue of production flight, what about the overtime changes adding to loss of jobs in Tinseltown itself? Granted, most runaway production is running to other countries, but ever-more-lax overtime rules may additionally encourage U.S.-located studios to move whatever production/office/soundstage work they can to “right-to-work” states that might seize on the aforesaid rule changes to offer a “better business climate” to putative employers.
As with so much else about job flight, it could take a while before it fully plays out and the effects are known. First though, the AFL-CIO is pulling out all stops to keep the current overtime laws in place. Should they fail, the changes are guaranteed to become a campaign issue next year.
Hopefully, workers won’t be too busy with uncompensated work to notice.
Addendum: On January 22 Bush and Senate Republican leaders killed a filibuster against a massive spending bill. Backers of the filibuster had fought to include an amendment to block the overtime pay protection attack that previously had been approved by the Senate and the House. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao says the U.S. Department of Labor plans to implement in March sweeping rules that could deny overtime pay protection to as many as 8 million workers, but AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says the fight against the Bush overtime pay protection elimination is far from over. Several senators have vowed to keep up the legislative fight against the Bush proposal by seeking to add amendments to upcoming bills that would block the rules.

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