Senate-House conferees have decided not to push a proposal that could have eliminated paid overtime for about half the federal work force.

Language that would have dropped guaranteed time-and-a-half for overtime for workers in Grade 9 and above was buried in the appropriation bill passed by the House to fund operations for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and 20 independent agencies. Included in those independent agencies were the giant Veterans Administration (with more workers than most cabinet departments) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

If the overtime cutoff had become law, federal union leaders expected that it would have been extended to most if not all other government operations. Under current law, federal employes receiving up to $20,467 (the first step of Grade 10) must be paid overtime, unless they request compensatory time off instead. Higher-grade workers in most cases can be given comp time in lieu of overtime at the discretion of their bosses. The House plan would have extended those rules down to beginning GS 9 employes making $18,585.

Lobbyists for the American Federation of Government Employees jumped on the overtime cutoff and generated enough steam -- in the form of letters and phone calls from members to Capitol Hill -- to persuade the Senate to ignore the overtime cutoff in the HUD-independent agencies appropriation bill it passed. This week Senate-House conferees agreed to drop the House language, so overtime rules stay as they are -- at least for now.