Monday, August 23, 2004

Bush Overtime Rules Start Today

Governing by Imperial Decree has its advantages: if people don't like it, there's not much they can do except bitch. You can't go to your elected representative because s/he doesn't have anything to say about it--Imperial Decrees aren't subject to legislative approval. They aren't even subject to legislative input. Imperial Decrees are top-down, 'We dictate, you obey' orders, and Bush loves them. What little he's done as president has been done with Imperial Decrees like this one.

In essence, the hundreds of pages of new rules redefine the criteria for which administrative, professional and managerial workers qualify for overtime, among them nurses, chefs, pharmacists, funeral directors, claims adjusters and restaurant managers.

Senator John Edwards, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, devoted his political party's weekly radio address on Saturday to assailing the new rules, making clear that the Democrats view them as an issue to exploit when many Americans are worried about the economy and stagnating wages.

"Why would anyone want to take overtime pay away from as many as six million Americans at a time when they need that money the most?" Mr. Edwards said. "And why would anyone support this new rule which could mean a pay cut for millions of Americans who have already seen their real wages drop again this year?"

That follows attacks by Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, who said last month, "The new overtime regulations represent a shameful assault on the paychecks of hard-working Americans at a time when they are already putting in more hours, paying more for everyday costs and saving less than ever before."

To turn up the volume on the issue, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. says it will hold a news conference today and will distribute several million fliers saying Mr. Bush has given its corporate friends a gift that will cut the paychecks of millions of Americans.

The administration asserts that the new regulations are needed to replace vague, outmoded rules that have spurred many lawsuits as employers and employees tussle over which workers are exempt and which are not. The administration argues that the overtime rules are clearer, will be easier to enforce and will reduce expensive litigation that hurts business and the economy.

"We view this as a step in the right direction for bringing clarity and certainty to this area of the law so there can be greater compliance," said Alfred Robinson, director of the Labor Department's wage and hour division. "And that's good for employers and employees. I'd rather focus on that than the spin and the politics."

So making the rules 'clearer' required cutting the pay of employees?

Critics of the new rules say they are another example of the Bush administration's taking regulatory steps that please businesses, which have lobbied for years to revamp the overtime regulations.

The Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group, has issued a report, which many Democrats have relied on, concluding that the rules will exempt about six million workers from overtime coverage. Among those, the institute said, are 1.4 million low-level salaried supervisors, 130,000 chefs and sous-chefs and 900,000 workers with graduate or college degrees who will now be considered professional employees.

The administration has accused the institute and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. of engaging in a partisan campaign of misinformation on the issue.

Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who has failed in repeated attempts to win passage of a bill to roll back the rules, said he would introduce new legislation to try again.

"This strikes right at the heart of a fundamental labor right," Mr. Harkin said. "These vague regulations will hurt rather than help Americans with their overtime pay, while the administration's public posture is all smiles and happy talk."

Somebody must have missed a memo because I can't imagine why Karl didn't make sure this was announced Friday. On a Monday, people might actually be paying attention and that's bad for Bush. It's always bad for Bush when people pay attention.

The new rules set forth criteria, like what responsibilities supervisors have and whether they have the power to hire and fire, to determine who is eligible.

The rules largely exempt workers earning more than $100,000 from overtime pay, although those with union contracts calling for overtime will continue to be eligible.

Three former Labor Department officials under President Bill Clinton and the first President Bush concluded in a report that the regulations would hurt American workers. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. financed their study, but the three authors, led by John Fraser, former director of the wage and hour division, insisted that they were independent.

Mr. Fraser called the rules "a very big deal." Their report said that but for a provision involving very low-paid supervisors, every change the Labor Department made had expanded the reach and scope of rules that exempted workers from overtime coverage.

(emphasis added by me)

Every one but one, huh? Golly, I guess when you 'clarify the rules', you have to give employers even more power to abuse and underpay their employees, huh?

Just for the record: The rules could have been clarified in favor of employees just as easily. Answering the charge of unfairness by touting clarification is apples and oranges--one has nothing to do with the other, which almost certainly means that 'clarification' is pure spin that bears no relation to the real reason the rules were written they way they were.