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No Overtime for Techies?

By Carrie Johnson
Sunday, May 13, 2001; Page L01

Putting in long and sometimes unpredictable hours is nothing new for technology workers.

But if recently introduced bills make their way through Congress this year, techies may have less of a financial incentive to burn the midnight oil.

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The National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses -- whose members employ tech workers and hire them out to client companies -- and other industry groups want to clear the way for Web designers, network experts, database crunchers and others who make a certain amount of money per hour to be considered "professionals" under the law.

In essence, people who fit under those categories and who earn more than $27 per hour would not be eligible for the same overtime benefits as others in and outside the field. Congress in the past decade already decreed that computer programmers were professionals for purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the 1938 law that governs overtime and minimum-wage issues. Managers and administrators -- even those who supervise just one other person -- also are not automatically entitled to overtime pay.

The proposal to change the eligibility rules "merely recognizes the realities of the modern workplace," says Mark Roberts, general counsel of the consultant association. "It is a perfect example of a law not having kept up with the times."

Roberts says the Depression-era law and more recent updates never took into account the number and kinds of new jobs created by the Internet and the businesses that use it.

The computer-professionals bill, introduced by Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-N.J.) with support from Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), comes on the heels of another attempt to loosen the strictures of the Fair Labor Standards Act. A measure sponsored by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) would allow overtime calculations to be made over a two-week period. That way, if workers logged 80 hours in two weeks, they would not receive extra pay for posting 50 hours in one week and 30 the next.

The latest attempts by industry groups to tinker with overtime protections have union groups up in arms.

"The industry is rolling back the rights of workers," says Marcus Courtney, an organizer with WashTech, a Washington state group affiliated with the Communications Workers of America.

Courtney says high-tech consultants who are paid by the hour can endure long gaps in unemployment during the year, as they finish one project and begin the search for another. These workers often rely on overtime pay -- usually 1 1/2 times their hourly wage -- to carry them through the rough spots, he says.

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