Senate blocks overtime rules

The Senate blocked new Labor Department overtime rules on May 4, with a vote of 52 to 47. Opponents of the amendment say it would cause millions of workers to become ineligible for extra pay.

If passed, it could have stripped overtime pay from skilled, non-unionized construction workers.

Five Republicans broke with their party to vote against the measure. Since overtime changes were proposed last year, Congress has continuously argued over the issue. The original proposal, critics said, was too broad and would cut out overtime pay for middle-class and blue-collar workers. Conservatives, on the other hand, pointed to the changing workforce and stated that it had been 50 years since overtime rules had been revised.

Under the original amendment, an estimated 1.3 million low-wage workers would be automatically eligible for overtime pay because of proposed changes, according to the Labor Department. But while the proposal would have lifted the current ceiling of those who can receive overtime, it would have also stripped the eligibility of hundreds of thousands of higher-paid workers.

Under the current plan, workers earning up to $8,060 annually are qualified for overtime pay. If the proposal were accepted, employees earning up to $22,100 a year would have automatically qualified.

But workers whose jobs were considered skilled, professional or administrative would have been exempt from overtime pay under the proposal. If passed, employees who manage a business, direct at least two employees and have hiring and firing responsibilities could not have gotten overtime.

The proposal also would have changed the definition of a “learned professional.” Under the current rules, any job that requires an advanced degree is exempt. Under the proposal, however, workers who acquired skills at technical schools, community colleges and in the military could be classified as “learned professionals,” which would have affected construction workers.

Because of the proposal’s opposition, the Labor Department revised the rules to include a list of jobs that would still be eligible for overtime. It included nurses, restaurant managers, firemen and oil rig workers. Still, the proposal was blocked.

Because the proposal is an amendment on a corporate tax bill in the Senate, it could still be passed. If it were, the new rules would become active Aug. 23.