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Labor Secretary supports overtime protections
January 21, 2004
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Washington, D.C. -- In congressional testimony today, U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao testified against “myths, distortions and inaccuracies” about the department’s proposal to update the nation’s overtime regulations for white-collar workers, saying the proposal will “strengthen overtime protections for millions of low-wage and middle-class workers and empower workers to understand and insist on their overtime rights. If the Department is blocked from issuing updated, stronger overtime protections, these workers will continue to suffer.”

Secretary Chao delivered her testimony in front of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.

“The Department’s overtime reform proposal will not eliminate overtime protections for eight million workers, will not eliminate overtime protections for police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other first responders, will not eliminate overtime protections for nurses, will not eliminate overtime protections for carpenters, electricians, mechanics, plumbers, laborers, teamsters, construction workers, production line workers and other blue-collar employees; and will not affect union workers covered by collective bargaining agreements,” Secretary Chao testified.

“The Department’s reform will strengthen overtime protections for millions of low-wage and middle-class workers, will empower workers to understand and insist on their overtime rights, will enable the Department of Labor to vigorously enforce the law, will prevent unscrupulous employers from playing games with workers’ overtime pay, and will put an end to the lawsuit lottery that is delaying justice for workers and stifling our economy with billions of dollars in needless litigation.”

For the first time since 1975, the Department’s proposed regulations would raise the salary threshold -- below which workers would automatically qualify for overtime -- from $155 a week to $425 a week, or $8,060 per year, to $22,100 per year. This increase of $270 a week, or $14,040 per year, would be the largest since Congress passed the FLSA in 1938. The impact of this revision will be to increase the wages of 1.3 million lower-income workers and reduce the number of low-wage salaried workers currently being denied overtime pay.

Other proposed changes include revising job duties required to qualify for the exemption to better correspond to 21st century workplace realities. The old regulations, written in 1949, mention job classifications that no longer exist, such as key punch operators, straw bosses, leg men and gang leaders. Clarifying which job duties qualify for overtime pay will help workers and employers easily determine overtime entitlement for millions of workers whose status is currently unclear.

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