On Tuesday, Senate Democrats, aided by a handful of moderate Republicans, handed a major rebuff to the Bush administration by blocking a Labor Department plan to scrap overtime pay for many white-collar workers. It’s not clear whether the House will follow suit and, if so, whether the White House will veto the legislation and go ahead with the changes anyway. It’s perfectly clear, though, that overtime has become an election-year political football.
The Labor Department’s changes to overtime are part of a larger overhaul of labor law, the first in 50 years. When first introduced last year, Labor’s changes included broadening overtime coverage for low-paid workers, but cutting back on eligibility of those better paid, as many as 8 million, according to Democrats. Last year’s plan capped rights to overtime at $65,000. But when the Senate voted to block the plan and the House decided to go along, the Labor Department agreed to rewrite the rules.
The Senate on Tuesday was voting on a revised version the rule changes that substantially reduced the number of workers who might lose overtime pay by guaranteeing overtime rights for workers who earn less than $23,660 a year. The new rules would also make those who earn more than $100,000 a year ineligible for overtime.
The Senate voted 52 to 47 for an amendment, tacked onto a corporate tax bill, to scrap the new rules, with five moderate Republicans breaking ranks to prevent the Bush administration from cutting overtime pay. Democrats argued that even under the revised plan, 4 million workers could lose their overtime pay.
Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who led the charge against the new labor rules, said, “This was a great victory for American workers and families” and sent a “clear message to the administration” to drop its efforts to rewrite the nation’s overtime pay rules.