This morning the Senate passed a provision that would block President Bush’s proposed Department of Labor (DOL) rule change cutting off 8 million workers from overtime pay rights. The provision, which passed by a vote of 54-45, was an amendment introduced by Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) to the Senate’s substitute version of the FY 2004 Labor, HHS, Education Appropriations bill, H.R. 2660. Sen. Miller (D-GA) crossed party lines to vote against the amendment, and Republican Senators Campbell (CO), Chafee (RI), Murkowski (AK), Snowe (ME), Specter (PA), and Stevens (AK) voted for the amendment.
The DOL rule change reclassifies millions of white-collar workers “holding a position of responsibility” in various industries-including aerospace, defense, health care, police, hospital, retail, journalism, and high tech-exempting them from time-and-a-half overtime wages (beyond the normal 40 hour work week). In addition, employers are granted complete discretion to work these employees almost unlimited hours with lost income and reduced flexibility. Another part of the DOL rule change, which the Harkin-Kennedy amendment does not affect, would increase the number of low-wage workers who would receive overtime rights by raising the salary limit from $8,060 to $22,100. This week, the Economic Policy Institute challenged DOL estimates that 1.3 million low-wage workers would benefit from the salary limit increase. The Economic Policy Institute report contends that the DOL included approximately 600,000 workers who could not possibly benefit from an increase in the salary threshold for various reasons.
It is unclear whether or not the Kennedy-Harkin amendment will remain in the final Labor, HHS Appropriations bill, the Associated Press reports. The House approved the DOL rule change in a narrow vote earlier this summer, and President Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it includes the Kennedy-Harkin amendment.
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