Tuesday, September 2, 2003

How new overtime rule would affect workers

By Brian Tumulty
Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON - A controversial proposal from the Bush administration would overhaul federal regulations regarding overtime pay.

Critics say more than 8 million workers would be reclassified as salaried employees exempt from overtime. The administration counters that the number is much closer to the 644,000 the Labor Department estimated when the proposal was unveiled in March.

Both sides agree the regulation would offer greater protection to 1.3 million low-wage workers by guaranteeing their eligibility for overtime pay.

Question: When would the changes take effect?

Answer: In early 2004, according to the latest estimate from the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division. The agency is reviewing more than 76,000 comments filed in response to the plan.

Q: How many workers now are eligible for overtime pay?

A: The Labor Department estimates 71 million workers are paid hourly and are eligible for premium pay of time and a half if they work more than 40 hours in a week. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act also covers another 39 million salaried workers exempt from overtime. Overall, the act covers 110 million people.

Q: What's the difference between salaried and hourly workers?

A: Hourly workers are paid only for the hours they work. Salaried employees are paid a guaranteed amount each week they work, even if they put in only 20 or 30 hours. On the other hand, salaried employees get no extra pay when they work 50 or 60 hours a week.

Q: Does everyone who is eligible for overtime get it?

A: In a given week, only 11.6 million workers are paid for overtime, according to an estimate from the Employment Policy Foundation.

Meanwhile, thousands file complaints annually saying they are illegally denied overtime by employers who require them to work off the clock, or pay straight time for more than 40 hours work.

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