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Overtime Rules Get Overhaul and Criticism

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – New federal overtime rules went into effect across the country yesterday, spurring heated debate and criticism.

In Buffalo, U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter joined local labor leaders in condemning the rules.

According to Democrats and labor groups, the new rules will reclassify some workers, and could make six million of them ineligible for overtime pay.

But the Bush administration asserts the new "family friendly" guidelines could actually make more people qualify for overtime pay.

Those who do not, could be given so-called "comp time" for any hours required beyond the standard forty hour work week.

Slaughter said these are not friendly changes.

"You'd work the overtime, you just wouldn't get paid for it. You would get comp time to spend with your family," said Slaughter. "These are workers who if they don't get that overtime will not be able to take care of their family. The idea that the Republican Administration has that they would take the day off and go off on a picnic is absurd."

Slaughter said workers denied overtime pay instead would be forced to work two or three jobs to make up the difference.

In some fields, such as nursing, finding time to use the comp time - for work or leisure - could be tricky.

Gaen Glauser is with the New York State Nurses Association, which represents nurses at Erie County Medical Center. Glauser said this compounds the problem for an already stretched nursing force.

"If we are already being mandated to do the extra work in order to have the right staffing levels at the floors, it's just going to continue to get worse... deteriorate," said Glauser. "And we're already having trouble recruiting people into our profession, so who does that benefit in the long run?"

For now, unionized workers, such as nurses are protected from the changes by contracts. But union leaders predict there will be long negotiating battles ahead for many workers currently earning overtime pay when those contracts expire.

For those without contracts, the new rules leave the question of who should qualify for overtime pay largely to the discretion of the employer. Some previously qualifying jobs - in fields such as restaurants, loan finacing and computers - could now be reclassified as managerial or professional, and therefore exempt from time and half pay.