Viewpoint: Bush strips overtime pay

Labor Day will soon be here. As part of their observance of this holiday, George W. Bush and his administration on Aug. 23 denied millions of American workers the right to overtime pay.

The new regulations will affect a wide range of occupations, from office workers to construction workers, nursery school teachers, financial services to embalmers, restaurant chefs and assistant managers.

The Bush policy marks a major setback for organized labor, the biggest in 118 years. It was back in May 1886 that labor unions began a fight to win better treatment and working conditions as well as better pay. That was the date of the famous Haymarket Riot in Chicago’s Haymarket Square.

In that bloody introduction to labor progress, police clashed with workers at a protest meeting in the square. The meeting was a day after a death and shooting took place during a riot at the McCormick Harvester plant. As police tried to disperse the Haymarket crowd, a bomb exploded, killing one officer and fatally wounding seven others. As a result, four men were hanged, one committed suicide, and two had their sentences commuted from death to life in prison.

In commemoration, a 9-foot bronze statue of a Chicago policeman of that period stands in the courtyard of the police academy at 1300 W. Jackson Blvd.

The Bush administration claims it is not weakening overtime rights but is merely denying overtime pay to those earning $100,000 or more yearly. The biggest effect of the new law, however, will be on employees making much less. Salaried workers drawing as little as $24,000 a year will be subject to the requirements.

There is no surprise in the fact that the administration is spreading disinformation about this move. One of their main pitches is this new law reduces litigation concerning overtime—no kidding.

Also, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao says she is just interested in clarity and helping low-wage workers. The rules themselves, however, present a completely different picture.

The top three experts on the Fair Labor Standards Act report that nearly every change in the rules will weaken or eliminate the right to overtime pay. They also say the new rules are so confusing and contradictory that they will actually stimulate a flurry of additional litigation in court.

Some 6 million workers will lose their overtime pay rights. Low-level supervisors will be hit hardest because the new arrangement will class them as executives, even if they spend most of their time doing the same work as the employees they supervise. Overtime also will be lost by team leaders in factories, construction and offices, and hundreds of thousands of workers without a college education will be classed as professionals and denied overtime.

These things, of course, are corruptions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, a standard obtained by long, hard effort. By its passage, Congress meant to ensure that all but a narrow group of top-level officials and professionals would enjoy a 40-hour week and would be paid extra for work performed beyond that limit.

To the surprise of almost no one, the Bush administration is playing ball with employer groups who don’t want to pay “time-and-a-half for overtime.” They want the ability to work their employees 50 or 60 hours a week and pay no more than they do for 40 hours work. There is one restaurant chain, we hear, that works assistant managers up to 90 hours a week with no extra pay. Such abuse will now be legal unless Congress tosses out this scheme in the fall.

The bill passed with only four dissenting votes in Congress and much arm twisting from the White House. Workers need to contact their senators and congressmen immediately to head off this maneuver. Unless Congress can stop this move, millions will be denied fair compensation for their labor.

We took more than a century to gain the 40-hour week and overtime pay. The Bush crowd has taken less than four years to roll back that progress.


Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!