WASHINGTON (PAI) – If you can’t beat ’em, try to fool ’em.
That was the latest GOP strategy when dealing with the issue of workers’ overtime pay. Despite the Senate’s 52-47 pro-overtime vote on May 4, it could work – if voters don’t pay attention.
That week in May, Senate Republicans faced the probability that lawmakers, for the third time, would protect workers’ overtime by voting to kill GOP White House occupant George W. Bush’s latest plan to cut overtime pay.
The Republicans also knew that a third vote for Bush’s plan to cut workers’ overtime would be politically harmful in an election year. So they trotted out their own alternative.
They had two goals. One was to derail the crusade by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to really protect workers’ overtime. The other was to give themselves a “fig leaf.” Passing their own plan would let them go home and brag that they preserved overtime.
The GOP’s first goal didn’t succeed. Harkin won. But their own plan gives Republicans something to cite through November, hoping to confuse voters and neutralize the issue. The GOP sponsor, Senate Labor Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), claimed his plan “identifies 55 occupations that the Secretary of Labor must ensure are as protected or more protected under the new regulation in terms of overtime pay” than before.
Gregg, Bush and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao also said any worker earning under $23,660 a year is automatically eligible for overtime. Harkin at least agreed with that income figure. Now, overtime pay is automatic only for workers earning under $8,600.
Gregg said his 55 guaranteed overtime occupations included first responders, blue-collar workers, nursery school teachers and registered nurses. The Democrats promptly pointed out that his scheme left workers in 834 other occupations vulnerable.
Harkin noted that Bush’s overtime rule, as announced by the Labor Department, would put workers in all occupations – including the 55 – at risk. An overtime pay cut would unequally hurt woman workers, Harkin said. And Bush’s cuts in penalties for overtime pay violations amount to a financial slap on the wrist, the Iowan added.
Harkin cited specific sentences from the new Bush rules barring overtime pay for nursery school teachers, RNs, the financial services industry and any worker whom the boss names as a “team leader” or “a working foreman.”
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney warned workers not to be fooled by Gregg’s and the GOP’s gambit. “There is simply no reason for Bush to slash a single worker’s overtime pay, especially in this economy, when middle-income families are already so hard-pressed,” he said.