Murray Speaks Out Against Effort to Deny Overtime Pay to 8 Million Americans

Sep 09 2003

Supports Harkin amendment to the Labor/HHS spending bill to block Bush Administration’s efforts to make millions ineligible for overtime pay protection

Video of Murray's Statement

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Patty Murray spoke on the Senate floor to protect the overtime pay of millions of Americans from a change being proposed by the Bush Administration.

This spring, the Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a rule that would make millions of workers ineligible for overtime pay protection under current law, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). DOL plans to implement the regulation in the fall.

The FLSA requires employers to pay their employees time-and-a-half for overtime work, but provides a narrow exception for salaried workers in executive, administrative and professional jobs. DOL’s proposal would broaden the definition of what kinds of jobs are included in management. This would allow employers to “promote” hourly wage earners to management, thereby disqualifying those workers from collecting overtime.

The Economic Policy Institute’s analysis of DOL’s proposed rule found that more than 8 million workers could lose their overtime eligibility. Affected workers include nurses, emergency medical technicians, police officers, firefighters, secretaries, sales reps, surveyors, journalists, paralegals, retail managers, dental hygienists, and many others.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has offered an amendment to the Labor-HHS spending bill, currently being debated in the Senate that would block the Department of Labor’s new regulation from taking effect.

A vote on the Harkin amendment is expected Wednesday morning.

UPDATE: The Harkin Amendment passed 54-45. [Details]

Sen. Murray’s floor statement follows.

“Mr. President, I rise in strong support of the amendment offered by Senator Harkin. This amendment will protect hard-working Americans -- like our police, firefighters and nurses -- who rely on overtime pay.

It is unbelievable to me today that as families struggle in this tough economy the Bush Administration wants to cut overtime pay for millions of Americans who depend on it to make ends meet. The Bush Administration has proposed changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets the rules regarding overtime pay.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, those changes will mean a pay cut for up to ten million working Americans. Let me say that again – these proposed changes will mean a pay cut for up to ten million Americans. Mr. President, these families are working hard, they’re playing by the rules, they’re trying to make ends meet, but the Bush Administration is squeezing them once again. To me that is unacceptable, and that’s why we need to pass this amendment.

The question I have is this: Haven’t American workers been punished enough by this President’s economic policies? Not only have we seen millions of Americans lose their pensions, but we’ve seen massive tax cuts for the few while everyone else struggles just to get by.

In my home state of Washington, we have lost more than 73,000 good paying jobs since this Administration came into office. Washington’s unemployment rate is the third highest in the nation at 7.5%. In fact, just recently one of our business columnists suggested that the actual unemployment rate for Washington state could be as high as 11.8% if you count all of our unemployed workers.

So here we are with so many out of work, so many people struggling to keep their jobs, and now this Administration wants to force a pay cut on those people who work overtime for their employers. Let’s not forget that these workers are now often the only breadwinners in their families. This change will hurt up to 10 million hard-working Americans, and I wanted to come to the floor today to talk about some of the real people who will be squeezed by this change.

Right now, our firefighters, police, and EMT’s are working hard on the frontlines of homeland security. They’re going above and beyond the call of duty – often with inadequate equipment and training – but they’re doing it to protect us in this dangerous age. Today, many of them are working overtime. Now, the Bush Administration is telling our firefighters, our police and our EMTs that they don’t deserve overtime pay for the extra work they do to keep us safe. I find that very insulting.

We know it will hurt their ability to provide for their families – families who every day watch them go off to work and hope that they will return home safely at the end of the day. And even worse, it really violates the great trust we place in our first responders The International Union of Police Associations estimates that 200,000 mid-level police officers will lose about $150 million in overtime pay if these new draft overtime regulations are implemented. Our firefighters, our police, our EMTs deserve overtime pay for their overtime work. The Bush Administration is trying to squeeze them, and it’s wrong.

Let me give you another example of who this change will hurt. In communities all across the country, we’ve got a shortage of nurses. I hear it from everyone who comes into my office. They work hard providing care under very difficult conditions. The Bush Administration would prevent more than 230,000 licensed practical nurses from getting overtime pay. They work hard for it, and frankly in my view they deserve every penny.

When I first heard about this disturbing proposal, I joined with my colleagues to tell the Administration that they were on the wrong track. As the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training, I was proud to join Senator Kennedy and 40 other Senators in sending a letter to Labor Secretary Chao. We asked her not to implement any proposed regulation that would deny overtime pay to hard-working Americans. In our letter, we asked the Secretary to consider the millions of workers who depend on overtime pay to make ends meet and to pay for food, child care, housing, and health care. We know that overtime pay often makes up 20-25% of an eligible worker’s wages. But it seems this Administration would rather provide tax cuts to the rich, while cutting the pay of working Americans who often live paycheck to paycheck.

During this debate, we’ve heard some dubious arguments from the other side. They’ll say that we need to update the Fair Labor Standards Act because it was passed in 1938. But they won’t tell you that Congress has updated the Act eight times. In fact, in 1985 Congress reviewed the law and extended it to state and local governments -- leaving in place the current overtime exemptions.

Furthermore, the Bush Administration is taking some unprecedented steps here. Never before has the Legislative Branch authorized changes in the overtime rules. Never before has Congress ever directed the Department of Labor to take overtime pay away from millions of American workers.

So you’ve got to wonder – why the urgent need to gut these time-tested worker protections? Could it be that the Bush Administration and its business allies want to reduce the amount they pay in wages? Maybe it’s because employers know that in this tough economy employees will go along and accept the loss of overtime because they’re afraid they’ll be laid-off? I’ll leave it to others to answer those questions, but I do know that the United State Senate should not support this coercive, anti-worker proposal.

It will drain the wallets of millions of Americans who are really working hard to put food on the table. This proposal from the White House is yet another slap to working Americans, and we need to stop it.

I want to commend the Senator from Iowa for offering this critical Amendment. Senator Harkin has always been a great friend to working Americans, and today those Americans need the Harkin Amendment to protect them from this Administration’s designs. So I urge my colleagues to stand up for our firefighters, police, EMTs and nurses and to stop proposed pay cut for American workers.”