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Attempt to Block Rule On Overtime Thwarted

Provision Deleted From Spending Bill

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 23, 2004; Page E03

An attempt to block the Bush administration's proposed changes in overtime rules was killed before the 2005 spending bill received final congressional approval over the weekend.

Democrats attached an amendment to the Senate's version of the bill that would have overturned the overtime regulations, which went into effect in August. The amendment, which would have prevented any worker previously covered by overtime from losing that protection, was deleted in a conference committee.

The White House had threatened to veto the entire $388 billion spending bill if the overtime amendment was included.

Democrats say they will continue to fight to overturn the regulations next year.

"This battle isn't over," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in a statement. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Kennedy "intend to push hard" to eliminate the overtime regulations, a Kennedy spokesman said.

The Department of Labor amended the nation's overtime rules this year, saying they needed updating. Critics say the new rules will deny millions of employees overtime pay.

The overtime rules were the source of political contention for months. The Senate voted to block the rules in May, in an effort pushed by Harkin. Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the Democratic presidential nominee, said he would repeal them if he were elected.

Several groups produced studies and reports pointing out what they say are loopholes in the rules through which white-collar workers -- 6 million, according to Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute -- could eventually lose overtime.

But the Department of Labor disputed that analysis and said it updated the rules because they didn't reflect changes that have occurred in the economy. The Labor Department said more people gained overtime under the new rules than lost it. Overtime class-action suits have doubled since 1997 because the rules about who was covered were unclear, according to the Department of Labor. The department recovered $212 million in back wages in fiscal 2003 on behalf of workers who claimed they were unfairly denied overtime.

Opponents of the rule change said they saw no opportunity to prevail in the fight over the budget bill.

"Obviously we're disappointed. We discussed with our key supporters what opportunities we had to keep it in," said William Samuel, director of the department of legislation at the AFL-CIO. "This bill had to pass. They were leaving town; the White House made it clear this was subject to review. Any fight would have been mostly symbolic."

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