Legislative Update

Volume CIV, No. 6June, 2004

Heather Beaudoin


On May 4, the U.S. Senate approved an overtime pay guarantee for workers who stand to lose their overtime pay under new rules issued last month by the Bush administration. The 52-47 vote on an amendment by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) came after nearly two weeks of an intense lobbying effort by the administration that attempted to paint the new provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as an expansion of overtime eligibility that would not cost workers their overtime pay rights.

The Harkin amendment allows updates to the FLSA’s rules that govern overtime eligibility but ensures no currently eligible workers lose their overtime pay and lets stand any provision that actually expands overtime eligibility. It also applies retroactively. If the Bush overtime take-away goes into effect before the legislative process is finalized — the House must still act — the Harkin amendment would halt the overtime pay grab.

“Working families are fed up with the administration’s schemes and spin. They have a simple request: ‘Give us an iron-clad guarantee that our overtime rights are safe,’” Harkin said before the vote. “If Mr. Bush and his Department of Labor are sincere in their stated desire to preserve overtime, they can prove it by supporting my amendment to guarantee that workers who are entitled to overtime pay under the old rules will not lose that right under the new rules.”

“Many of these overtime changes appear to have no justification other than to satisfy the desires of business groups. The administration’s final regulation is rife with special interest fixes for industries that have been unable to secure them from Congress,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.

After a yearlong drive to take away workers’ overtime pay, the Bush administration published its new overtime rules April 23 and they are due to go into effect in late August.

If they do take effect, it will “mean longer hours and less pay for millions of workers — and more litigation for our entire economy,” Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing May 4.

“What does the loss of overtime mean? Let’s put it in human terms. It’s a 25 percent pay cut. It’s $161 a week on average. And — as importantly — it’s time with your family. This is not trivial. At its very core, this issue is about our American values of work and family,” Senator Clinton said in the Congressional Record on the ramifications of the President’s proposal.

Although the Senate and House backed a similar overtime pay protection amendment last year, Republican congressional leaders, working closely with the Bush White House, stripped the amendment from the final version of the appropriations bill to which it was attached.


Nine of the nation’s ten largest metropolitan areas still have fewer jobs than they did three years ago, when the recession began.

Among the top 10 metro areas, San Francisco is experiencing the greatest jobs deficit, with employment down 12.6 percent. It is followed by Boston (-7.6 percent); Detroit (-6.3 percent); Dallas (-4.5 percent); Chicago (-4.0 percent); New York (-2.1 percent); Houston and Los Angeles (both -0.6 percent); and Philadelphia (-0.2 percent). Employment in the Washington, DC, area grew by 1.7 percent.

In May’s Jobs Snapshot (one of two snapshots posted to the Economic Policy Institute Web site at, Michael Ettlinger and Sujan Vasavada show in greater detail what the new metropolitan area data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics mean. Ettlinger is director of the Economic Analysis and Research Network and Vasavada is an EPI research assistant.