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Senate Democrats, with the help of a few Republicans, passed an amendment to prevent private businesses from offering time off in lieu of extra pay for overtime work.

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Roll Call: Senate Liberals Block Flexible Overtime Regulations

Senate Democrats, with the help of a few Republicans, passed an amendment to prevent private businesses from offering time off in lieu of extra pay for overtime work.

On September 10, by a vote of 54 to 45, the U.S. Senate added an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D.-Iowa), to the Department of Labor appropriations bill (H.R. 2660), blocking any loosening of federal overtime regulations that affect private employers nationwide. He regulations have not been updated for many years. The White House has threatened a veto of the bill if it contains the amendment

The new rules, proposed by the Bush Administration, would allow employers to offer workers a choice between time off and time-and-a-half for overtime.

Current federal law requires all employers to pay time-and-a-half, or 1.5 times regular pay, to non-management workers for each hour worked beyond 40 hours a week.

Conservatives, who generally respect private contracts between employers and employees and oppose federal intervention in private workplaces, favored the new rules and opposed this amendment. Their argument is that Bush’s rules would give greater flexibility to employers who might not otherwise have the cash to give their employees overtime hours.

However, conservatives did not argue on the floor against the Harkin amendment, heavily favored by big labor unions, perhaps for fear of appearing to be anti-worker.

Liberals argued that employers would use the new rules to classify workers as “management” and thus deprive them of overtime compensation altogether. They also argued that employers would force employees to take time off as compensation instead of time-and-a-half.

Sen. Harkin spoke at length, misrepresenting the effect the administration’s rules would have. “I think this is one of the most crucial issues facing this Congress this year: whether we are going to sit back and let the administration. . .just wipe out-wipe out-the protections 8 to 10 million working Americans have to guarantee that if they have to work over 40 hours a week, they are going to get at least time-and-a-half overtime. Just wipe out the 40-hour work week, that has been law for 65 years now.”

(The federal legislation governing overtime pay was enacted in 1938.)

But Harkin undercut his own point by demonstrating how, under the current regulations, only a fraction of the nation’s eligible employees are given a chance to make extra money by working overtime because their employers cannot afford to pay them the higher hourly rate.

“The Department of Labor has said this only affects about 644,000 workers. Well, they’re only counting the people are currently, routinely work overtime and receive overtime pay. There are about 8 to 10 million people who are qualified to get overtime pay, but they are not working overtime.”

This vote was a major defeat for the Bush Administration.

A “yes” vote was a vote to continue forcing private employers to conform to strict federally mandated overtime regulations. A “no” vote was a vote against the amendment.

FOR THE AMENDMENT: 54 AGAINST THE AMENDMENT: 45
REPUBLICANS FOR (6):
Campbell
Chafee
Murkowski
Snowe
Specter
Stevens

DEMOCRATS FOR (47):
Akaka
Baucus
Bayh
Biden
Bingaman
Boxer
Breaux
Byrd
Cantwell
Carper
Clinton
Conrad
Corzine
Daschle
Dayton
Dodd
Dorgan
Durbin
Edwards
Feingold
Feinstein
Graham (Fla.)
Harkin
Hollings
Inouye
Johnson
Kennedy
Kerry
Kohl
Landrieu
Lautenberg
Leahy
Levin
Lieberman
Lincoln
Mikulski
Murray
Nelson (Fla.)
Nelson (Neb.)
Pryor
Reed (R.I.)
Reid (Nev.)
Rockefeller
Sarbanes
Schumer
Stabenow
Wyden

INDEPENDENT FOR: (1):
Jeffords

REPUBLICANS AGAINST (45):
Alexander
Allard
Allen
Bennett
Bond
Brownback
Bunning
Burns
Chambliss
Cochran
Coleman
Collins
Cornyn
Craig
Crapo
DeWine
Dole
Domenici
Ensign
Enzi
Fitzgerald
Frist
Graham (S.C.)
Grassley
Gregg
Hagel
Hatch
Hutchison
Inhofe
Kyl
Lott
Lugar
McCain
McConnell
Nickles
Roberts
Santorum
Sessions
Shelby
Sununu
Talent
Thomas
Voinovich
Warner

DEMOCRATS AGAINST (1):
Miller

NOT VOTING: 1

REPUBLICANS (1): DEMOCRATS (0):
Smith
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