The current budget has redefined who is eligible for overtime pay.

WelsbacherThe 2004 budget that passed in the Senate in late January and is scheduled to go into effect this month includes provisions that could potentially remove overtime pay for thousands of hourly wage workers, including RTs and other health care workers. The bill incorporates changes made a year ago through House and Senate proposed amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which requires employers to pay covered employees overtime pay of one and one half times their regular rate of pay.

The changes redefine the wage levels and salary status of salaried workers who would be exempt, and therefore not eligible for overtime pay. They also loosen definitions of “executive”—also exempt—workers. Under the new definition, executives include those with lower levels of education (emergency medical technicians, for example), those who perform such supervisory tasks as “directing the work of two or more employees,” and those who can recommend, but do not have the authority to carry out, the hiring or firing of those two employees.1

The number of Americans who will lose overtime pay varies depending on the source. The liberal Economic Policy Institute (EPI) claims it could be as high as 8 million,1 a figure discredited by the Department of Labor (DOL).2

Another change raises the maximum pay for qualifying workers from the current $155/week, or $170/week for “professionals” (the level where it has been since 1975), to $425/week. A welcome change, to be sure, but its overall value also varies depending on who is slinging the figures. The DOL states that this change would “guarantee overtime for 1.3 million additional low-wage workers.”3 The EPI claims that because this change also eliminates people from the other end of the pay scale (those making $65,000/year or more), it’s a wash: 3.2 million workers once not eligible for overtime, it says, now are, and 3.2 million who were eligible no longer are.1

“What many people don’t realize about the overtime exceptions of this bill,” says Pat Greenberg, executive director, Nurse Alliance of New York State/1199 SEIU, “is that workers who become ineligible for overtime don’t even get straight pay for overtime. They get comp time, which we all know is a myth, and which is offered at the employer’s discretion.”

Advocacy groups claim the issue is not over, and encourage interested health care practitioners to contact President Bush regarding overtime exemptions.

—Anne Welsbacher
[email protected]

1. Economic Policy Institute. Available at: Accessed February 10, 2004.
2. Department of Labor. Available at: Accessed February 13, 2004.
3. Department of Labor. Available at: Accessed February 17, 2004.