Dems Block Senate Spending Package

January 22, 2004 ( - In protest of the Bush administration's plans to rewrite the "white collar" exemption provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), US Senate Democrats temporarily blocked passage of a catchall spending package.

>The $822 billion appropriations bill in earlier form contained provisions to amend the overtime provisions of the FLSA.   However, in October, US House of Representatives leader did an abrupt about face last month to withdraw the changes from the bill, according to a Washington Post report.

Democrats were upset that the provision was left out of the appropriation legislation and rallied enough troops to delay the necessary 60 votes required for passage.   Regardless of the latest stall though, leaders in both parties agree the measure will eventually be passed before a temporary spending bill expires at the end of this month.  

DoL Moves

Rather than include the changes in a spending bill, officials at the Department of Labor (DoL) have signaled changes would be made at the end of this month, independent of legislative approval.   The DoL’s changes would be the first comprehensive overhaul in more than 50 years of the white-collar exemption tests used to determine whether an employee must be paid overtime or is exempt from the minimum wage and overtime requirements of FLSA. Currently, there are three tests for whether or not an employee is ineligible for overtime:  the employee’s level of pay, whether or not the employee is a salaried or hourly worker,andwhether or not the employee performs certain job duties.

As the rules stand, any employee making more than $155 a week (about $8,000/year) could be excluded from overtime, if they had a salary and a job description that fell into certain categories.   The proposed regulations would have lifted the cutoff to $425 a week (about $22,100/year), a step that could add about 1.3 million lower-wage workers to the ranks of people eligible for overtime and could go into effect as early as 2004, according to DoL (SeeWhite House Proposes Overtime Rules Overhaul).

Earlier this week, US Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao was defiant in a Senate committee hearing headed up by FLSA amendment opponent Arlen Specter (R – Pennsylvania).   In the hearing Specter had asked Chao to delay the possible March 31 implementation of amendments to regulations until September.  However, Chao said “enough time has been spent on delays and studies of all sorts,” telling Specter she is more concerned about the $2 billion dollars a year employers are spending on “needless litigation” brought by workers seeking overtime pay (See  Chao: FLSA Amendments Going Into Effect March 31 ).