NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – A federal Department of Labor (DOL) proposal, which does not need Congressional approval, would deny a wide array of workers overtime pay, activists and labor unions complain.
Analysts say the new proposals could affect some 500,000 workers in New York, and one million to eight million American workers across the nation.
“What angers us even further is the way the (Bush) administration tried to hide these new regulations,” Sarah Harding of the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute told The Final Call. She said the DOL introduced the new regulations in March, and gave the public 90 days to comment.
On July 31, workplace advocates and officials from the DOL testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee. Meanwhile, a labor department spokesman said the labor movement had been consulted in producing the overtime plan.
“For them to say their concerns are not being addressed is wrong,” Ed Frank said.
“The 40-hour week and overtime pay are the legacy of some of the greatest uprisings of workers in our nation’s history,” said Richard Trumpka, secretary and treasurer of the AFL-CIO, the largest labor federation. “But now the Bush administration wants to take it away. The American workers are not going to let them.”
At issue are the overtime regulations that were spelled out in the 1938 Fair Standards Labor Act, which makes every hour beyond 40 in a week 50 percent more expensive to the company. Labor rights activists back then wanted to make it expensive for businesses to work people past the 40 hours.
Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao has countered the criticism by saying that the existing “morass” of outdated overtime rules are a hindrance. She noted that the new rules would make hundreds of thousands of low wage earners eligible for time-and-a-half.
But she also admitted that white-collar, middle-income workers could lose income, because employers will have leeway to pronounce them managers and deny them their current right to overtime.
While workplace activists said the most welcomed change would raise the ceiling for overtime–set in 1975 at $8,000 a year, to $22,100–they reject the premise that employers could force unpaid overtime on skilled workers in such fields as advertising, marketing, health, research and construction.
“Overtime is not a luxury; it’s a necessity for millions of American families,” Leslie Getzinger of the American Federation of Teachers, said. “These changes will not clarify or update the law, but strip basic working rights that Americans have fought for since the beginning of the 20th century.”
Labor activists, such as Jim Haughton of Harlem Fight Back, say that organized labor’s response to the DOL regulations has been lukewarm, at best.
“Pres. Bush is trying to erode the gains of workers; we have to be clear about that,” Mr. Haughton said. “They are pushing working people to fight back, but it is now impossible for Black and White workers to join together to fight against the overtime rules because of racism.”
He said the unions use White superiority as a tool to keep workers divided. “Until White workers stand up against their racism, nothing will be done to stop Bush’s attack against labor. All the testifying before the Senate means nothing. White workers still feel that, no matter what, they are better off than Blacks. So you see the divide-and-conquer rule is still in vogue, which prohibits a unified voice from the American workers,” Mr. Haughton stressed.