Murray Questions Labor Secretary over Anti-Worker Overtime Changes

Jan 20 2004

Murray fights pay cut for 8 million Americans


(Washington, D.C.) -- Today U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) continued her efforts to protect workers' overtime pay by vigorously questioning Labor Secretary Elaine Chao at a hearing of the Senate's Labor, HHS Appropriations Subcommittee this morning.

"It's inconceivable to me that as families struggle in today's economy, the Bush Administration and some in the Republican majority are cutting the pay of literally millions of workers who depend on their overtime to help make ends meet," Murray told Chao at the public hearing.

Since last year, the Bush Administration has been trying to change the nation's overtime rules. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the changes will result in a pay cut for about 8 million working Americans.

Murray has fought the changes and helped lead a successful effort in the Senate in September to remove the changes from the Senate's FY 2004 Labor, HHS Appropriations bill. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress added their anti-worker scheme back into the Omnibus Appropriations bill. The Administration is expected to publish its new rules on March 31, 2004.

Today, Murray questioned Chao about the changes. Specifically, Murray questioned:

  • The Administration's attempts to make fewer workers eligible for overtime by lowering the education threshold for workers. The plan would no longer require a four-year college degree to deny overtime to workers.

  • How the plan would encourage companies to reclassify thousands of employees to make them ineligible for overtime pay.

  • How the plan would cut overtime pay to those veterans who receive it today because their military training counts as a four-year degree.

Despite Murray's questioning, Chao refused to provide any details on how the rule might be improved in light of the 80,000 comments (mostly critical) that the Department has received on the proposal.

Senator Murray's opening remarks today's hearing follow:

"Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this second hearing on the proposed regulatory changes the Department of Labor has put forth regarding overtime pay. I'm here today to express my outrage at the Republican leadership in Congress for disregarding the will of a bipartisan majority of Members in both Houses when they removed the Harkin amendment from the final omnibus appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2004.

It's inconceivable to me that as families struggle in today’s economy, the Bush Administration and some in the Republican majority are cutting the pay of literally millions of workers who depend on their overtime to help make ends meet.

Without any hearings, the Secretary of Labor with just a few strokes of her pen is about to adversely affect the quality of life for millions of hard working families. Here we are with so many Americans out of work, many people struggling to keep their jobs, millions have their pension benefits and their health care benefits and now this Administration is going to force a pay cut on those who work overtime for their employers. We know that overtime pay often makes up 25% of an eligible worker's wages.

Let's not forget that many of these workers are now often the only breadwinners in their families. This change will hurt some 8 million Americans who have worked hard and played by the rules, and are now going to have to endure as much as a 25% pay cut.

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 time. Many of them are working overtime. Now this Administration is telling our firefighters, our police and our EMT's that they don't deserve overtime pay for the extra work they do to keep us safe.

And to top it off, like a lot of people I was very upset and concerned when the Department of Labor provided employers with "tips" on how to avoid paying your employees overtime. I want to hear about that today.

So I thank the Chairman for calling this hearing. I look forward to working with him as we develop truly bipartisan solutions to critical policies that affect millions of American workers and their families who continue to struggle to pay their mortgages and feed their families."


Murray has been fighting the Administration's anti-worker overtime proposal since it was first announced by:

  • Meeting with workers and the labor community in Washington, D.C. and Washington state.

Pushing for the Harkin Amendment

Pressing the Administration and Labor Department to Protect Workers

  • Questioning Administration officials about the overtime proposal including:

      DOL Solicitor Howard M. Radzely, July 29, 2003

      Wage and Hour Division Administrator Tammy McCutchen, July 31, 2003

      Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, January 20, 2004

  • Sending a letter – along with 42 other Senators – to Secretary Chao on June 30, 2003 urging the Secretary to not implement the overtime proposal.

Murray will keep fighting to protect workers in her roles as:

  • Ranking Democrat on the Employment, Safety and Training subcommittee,
  • a member of the Senate's Labor, HHS Appropriations Subcommittee,
  • and a member of the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.