|United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
|September 2, 2003|
The 54 undersigned organizations urge that you vote for the Harkin amendment that would prevent the Secretary of Labor from eliminating overtime pay protections from millions of American workers, but would allow the Secretary to extend those protections to additional workers.
We anticipate that the Harkin amendment will be offered to the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, H.R. 2660, when that legislation comes before the Senate for debate and vote.
On March 31, 2003, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued proposed regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) that, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, threaten the overtime pay protections of more than 8 million workers. (Federal Register, Vol. 68, No. 61.) DOL received some 80,000 comments before its comment deadline of June 30. The overwhelming majority of those comments opposed the proposed revisions, on which DOL did not hold a single public hearing.
The proposed DOL regulations would undercut the two primary goals of the FLSA, which sought 1) to establish a norm of a 40-hour week and 2) to encourage employers to hire additional workers rather than forcing already employed workers to work longer hours.
Today when an employer requires most workers to work more than 40 hours in a week, the employer must pay time-and-a-half for the overtime hours. The proposed regulations, however, would so dramatically expand the exemptions for professional, executive, and administrative employees as to distort them beyond recognition. The obvious consequences would be a windfall to employers, longer hours for less pay for employees, and harm to the families deprived for most waking hours of their principal earners.
Another, less obvious consequence, would be seriously jeopardizing patient health and care. Shortages of trained health care personnel already make adequate staffing difficult, if not impossible, in many hospitals. The DOL proposal will make this bad situation worse.
The proposed regulations list, among the “learned professions” that would not receive overtime pay protections, registered or certified medical technologists, registered nurses, dental hygienists, and physician assistants. The proposed regulations state: “The areas in which professional exemptions may be available are expanding.” DOL thus explicitly contemplates that the “learned profession” exemption will exclude an ever growing number of workers.
In the face of a national shortage of health care personnel willing to work in hospitals, expanding the definition of “professional” status would bring disastrous consequences. Overwhelming workloads have led nurses to burn out and quit. Other shortages of hospital personnel include radiologic technologists, who perform medical imaging and radiation therapy. In occupations for which demand is projected to grow and personnel shortages are already acute, the proposed regulations would make finding, hiring, and keeping workers ever more difficult. Studies have shown that inadequate staffing leads to increased injuries and mortality among hospital patients.
Among the organizations signing this letter are representatives of other first responders – police, fire fighters, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics. The proposed DOL regulations would revise the salary level and job duties tests for excluding workers from overtime pay protections in ways that would end overtime pay for a huge proportion of first responders. The International Union of Police Associations, for example, has estimated that the DOL proposal would end overtime pay for “roughly 50% of those law enforcement officers currently guaranteed overtime by federal law” – “a minimum of 200,000 law enforcement officers.” (“Bush Labor Department Moves to Cut Federal Overtime Protection: Loss of $150,000,000 Annually in Law Enforcement Overtime Threatened” [www.iupa.org/newsroom/DOLRulesChanges.html].) We should not reward the constant public safety efforts of first responders with a pay cut and exhaustion. If we do, the likelihood rises that they will be unable to provide the responses that they want to – and that the public needs them to.
The proposed regulations also would vastly expand the universe of media workers not entitled to receive overtime pay. They would render exempt journalists; writers “for newspapers, news magazines, television news programs, the Internet and other media”; and radio and television announcers. The proposed regulations state: “Exempt work includes conducting interviews, reporting or analyzing public events, and acting as a narrator, announcer or commentator.”
Among the organizations signing this letter are representatives of media workers: print and broadcast journalists, photographers, writers, editors, technicians, actors, and others. The dramatic and continuing consolidation of media employers has led to an ever-increasing imbalance of bargaining power between these workers and their employers. The proposed DOL regulations would make that imbalance worse and, for the vast majority of media workers, exert a steady downward pressure on wages and upward pressure on hours.
Despite the adverse impact on the millions of white-collar workers we represent, DOL has advertised that its proposed regulations would raise the salary level at which low-wage workers are guaranteed overtime pay protections. That increase is long overdue and, while it would not keep pace with inflation or previous DOL measures, we support it. Nothing in the Harkin amendment will stop DOL from implementing an increase in the minimum salary threshold. Under the Harkin amendment, DOL may add to the ranks of those workers who receive overtime pay protections.
The families of millions of white-collar workers count on overtime pay to make ends meet, a reality that has only increased as both wage growth and the economy have stalled. The overtime protections that workers are afforded under the FLSA should not be weakened. Please vote for the Harkin amendment and safeguard workers and the public alike.
Paul E. Almeida,
President, Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO
Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses
Actors’ Equity Association
American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing
American Association of University Professors
American College of Nurse Midwives
American Federation of Government Employees
American Federation of Musicians
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
American Federation of Teachers
American Federation of Television and Radio Artists
American Music Therapy Association
American Nurses Association
American Public Health Association
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance
Association of Flight Attendants
Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses
Center on Policy Initiatives
Coalition for Fair Employment in Silicon Valley
Coalition of Labor Union Women
Communications Workers of America
Council of Engineers and Scientists Organizations
Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO
Dermatology Nurses’ Association
Health and Medicine Policy Research Group
Industrial Technical & Professional Employees Union
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers
International Plate Printers, Die Stampers and Engravers Union of North America
International Union of Police Associations
Jobs With Justice
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA)
Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers & Scientists
Marine Engineers= Beneficial Association
National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-CWA
National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners
National Association of State Highway and Transportation Unions
National Interfaith Committee on Worker Justice
National Organization for Women
Physicians for a National Health Program
Pride at Work
Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union
Screen Actors Guild
Seafarers International Union of North America
Service Employees International Union
Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, IFPTE Local 2001
The Newspaper Guild-CWA
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
United American Nurses
United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America International Union (UAW)
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
United Food and Commercial Workers
United Steelworkers of America
Writers Guild of America, East