Oregon AFL-CIO considers plan to protect workers from overtime scheme

American workers work longer hours than their counterparts in every other industrialized country. But the Bush Administration lobbied hard to make sure as many as 8 million U.S. workers will get less pay for their efforts.

Congress caved in to veto threats by the president late last month and allowed a key budget bill to go forward without a provision that would have prevented the U.S. Department of Labor from reducing overtime pay for U.S. workers. As result, the Labor Department could finalize pending rules changes as early as next month that would:

• Exempt from overtime pay requirements anyone making $65,000 or more per year who does non-manual labor; and,

• Allow employers to exempt from overtime pay millions of salaried workers who earn between $22,100 and $65,000 per year if classified as administrative, executive or technical employees.

“What did middle-class Americans do to so anger this president that he is intent on punishing them by taking away their access to overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours a week?” asked Representative George Miller (D-Calif.). “School teachers, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, construction workers, office workers — people who are trying to buy cars, put their children in college, pay their medical bills or pay the mortgage by working long hours.”

For the time being, however, none of the changes will affect Oregon workers. That’s because state wage and hour laws protect overtime pay in the state. But those protections are likely to come under increasing pressure once the federal changes take effect in other states.

For this reason, the Oregon AFL-CIO filed a draft ballot initiative with the secretary of state late last month that would require a vote of the people before the Legislature could enact any reductions of overtime pay protections for Oregon workers.

The Oregon AFL-CIO Executive Board will make a final decision in February on whether to proceed to qualify the “Overtime Pay Protection Act” for the November 2004 ballot.

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