[Reader-list] Rewriting labour laws in the US

Monica Narula monica at sarai.net
Sat Aug 30 11:57:44 IST 2003

by Greg Palast

Friday, 29 August, 2003

In celebration of the working person's holiday, Secretary of Labor
Elaine Chao has announced the Bush Administration's plan to end the
60-year-old law which requires employers to pay time-and-a-half for

I'm sure you already knew that -- if you happened to have run across
page 15,576 of the Federal Register.

According to the Register, where the Bush Administration likes to
place it's little gifts to major campaign donors, 2.7 million workers
will lose their overtime pay -- for a "benefit" of $1.53 billion. I
put "benefit" in quotes because, in the official cost-benefit
analysis issued by Bush's Labor Department, the amount employers will
now be able to slice out of workers' pockets is tallied on the plus
side of the rules change.

Nevertheless, workers getting their pay snipped shouldn't complain,
because they will all be receiving promotions. These employees will
be re-classified as managers exempt from the law. The change is
promoted by the National Council of Chain Restaurants. You've met
these 'managers' - they're the ones in the beanies and aprons whose
management decisions are, "Hold the lettuce on that."

My favorite of Chao's little amendments would re-classify as "exempt
professionals" anyone who learned their skill in the military. In
other words, thousands of veterans will now lose overtime pay. I just
can't understand why Bush didn't announce that one when he landed on
the aircraft carrier.

Now I should say that, according to Chao's press office, the changes
will actually extend overtime benefits to 1.3 million burger flippin'
managers. How does that square with the billion dollar "benefit" to
business owners? Simple: The Chao hounds at the Labor Department
suggest that employers CUT WAGES so that, with the new "overtime"
pay, the employees won't actually take home a dime more.

I can hear the moaners and bleeding hearts saying, this sounds like
the Labor Department is telling Big Business how to evade the law.
Yep, that's what the Department is doing. Right there on page 15,576
of the Federal Register it says,

"Affected employers would have four choices concerning potential
payroll costs: 
 (4) converting salaried employees' basis of pay to
an hourly rate that result in virtually no changes to the total
compensation paid those workers."

And in case some employer is dense as a president and doesn't get the
hint, Madame Chao repeats, "
The fourth choice above results in
virtually no (or only a minimal) increase in labor costs."

For decades, the courts have thrown the book at cheapskate bosses who
chisel workers out of legal overtime by cutting base pay this way 

but now they'll have a new defense: Bush made me do it.

But then, there won't be any cases against employers, because Chao is
the labor cop that is supposed to stop paycheck theft. She's well
qualified for the job. Her resume reads, "Married to Republican
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky." I called her press office to
ask if she qualifies for overtime, but they'd left the office early.

And good news for our sporting President. Word from the White House
is he'll be golfing on the Labor Day weekend. Under Chao's rules, he
need not worry if he wants to replay that hole. "Exempt
professionals" who cannot earn overtime - once defined as doctors,
lawyers and those with specialized college degrees - will now include
anyone who provides skilled advice 
 like caddies ("You might try the
other end of the club, Mr. President").

Finally, on this Labor Day weekend, it's time this nation took a cold
look at the issue of hard-core unemployment. Neo-conservatives have
warned us about families that pass on joblessness from generation to

Take, for example, the sad case of the Bush family. When Poppy Bush
was president, unemployment hit a generational high of over 9 million
Americans. Bill Clinton, through education and hard work, put more
than 3 million of those citizens back on the job.

Now Bush Junior, repeating his family pattern of joblessness, has
presided over the return of unemployment for 9 million Americans.

This was not unexpected, sociologists warn us. Hard core
unemployment, through failed schooling and a don't-care attitude,
takes on a nearly genetic character. The acorn falls only so far from
the tree. Especially when the nut falls on its head.
Monica Narula
Sarai:The New Media Initiative
29 Rajpur Road, Delhi 110 054

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