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February 03, 2003
Bush Seeking Sweeping Labor-Law Changes
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>Everything from overtime requirements to the Family and Medical Leave Act would get an employer-friendly makeover under sweeping changes planned by the Bush administration, according to the Associated Press.

The AP reports that the overtime changes, which won’t require congressional approval, are confined to a section of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act that defines blue-collar and white-collar workers and determines who must be paid an hourly rate of time-and-a-half for working beyond 40 hours a week.

On one hand, according to AP, more low-wage workers would qualify for exempt status because the administration wants to raise maximum-pay levels in the salary test.

Under the salary test, last updated in 1975, workers earning more than $8,060 a year are exempt from overtime if they meet the other criteria as well.

The administration contends that this figure is unfairly low to today’s workers. Tammy McCutchen, administrator of the Labor Department's wage and hour division, told the AP that a minimum-wage worker logging 40 hours a week earns more than $10,700 a year.

``If this minimum level is raised, more employees automatically will be entitled to overtime, thus providing additional protections to low-wage workers,'' she said.

At the same time, however, the department is clarifying and simplifying job descriptions and duties tests.

That could move many higher paid workers into the exempt category, though McCutchen said she could not quantify the impact.

``If the changes result in moving an employee who previously received overtime into exempt status not entitled to overtime, the law would no longer require the employer to pay overtime,'' she said.

Employer groups such as the Chamber of Commerce complain that under the complex rules involving job duties and salary levels, many highly skilled, well-paid, professional workers are required to get overtime pay. A surge in overtime pay litigation aimed at employers also is a concern.

The law ``was created to protect those workers who had the least economic leverage,'' said Randy Johnson, the chamber's labor vice president. ``Now it's been distorted to provide overtime to engineers making over $80,000 a year.''

The Labor Department is expected to issue the new overtime pay rules for public comment by the end of March.

Training programs, FMLA eyed as well

The Bush administration also wants an overhaul of the Labor Department's job training programs, established under the Workforce Investment Act, which Congress must renew this year.

President Bush is proposing to cut about $144 million in employment and training programs in his 2004 budget being released Monday. Most grants programs would be cut, and that money consolidated into two programs - for youth and adults.

The administration says it wants to eliminate overlap of services and provide more flexibility. An additional $2 billion would be added to fund the new re-employment accounts that Bush wants states to offer to help workers pay for job search expenses.

A review of the Family Medical Leave Act, which marks its 10-year anniversary on Wednesday, also is under way. The law gives most workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of child, or a serious health condition of the employee, parent, child or spouse.

Employer groups want leave restricted only to serious health conditions, and they object to the inclusion of what they consider to be minor ailments that they say allow some workers to abuse the law.

Employers say they aren't able to discipline people who abuse the leave - such as being chronically late for work - because employees can claim protection under the law.

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Associated Press article, via Yahoo!
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