Labor laws overhauled

By Michael Davis

As new wage rules went into affect Monday, some local businesses wondered what all the fuss was about.

But the first changes to the Department of Labor's overtime rules in more than 50 years, labor officials say, protect workers' rights and more clearly define who is eligible for overtime pay and who is not.

Labor leaders argue the new rules in the Fair Labor Standards Act may take money out of workers' pockets by eliminating the extra pay they are used to earning for working beyond 40 hours per week.

Cal Ruffin, human resources manager for Smead Manufacturing in Locust Grove, a company that makes office products and employs more than 200, said the new rules won't affect the employees there much, if any, since many of their employees are paid under union contracts.

"The people that I've talk to in my profession aren't really planning on making any changes," Ruffin said. "I think there's a lot more noise than effect."

Henry County government, with more than 1,200 employees, could see some shifts in eligibility, with overtime-eligible employees moving to non-eligible status and previously ineligible employees becoming eligible, said Human Resources Director Rebecca Zebe.

She said the county would review each employee's status under the new rules.

"What we'll do is look at those exempt (overtime ineligible) positions first and see if they need to be moved (to eligible)," she said. However, "the lion's share" of employees is currently eligible for overtime pay, Zebe said.

Zebe gave no indication how long the review process would take, but said employees who weren't previously eligible for overtime will be reviewed first to see if they become eligible under the new rules.

"The regulations are very clear in determining what positions are exempt and not exempt," Zebe said.

Estimates of how many workers will lose their overtime eligibility range from 107,000 to 6 million nationwide. Workers who could become newly eligible range from very few to 1.3 million.

About 107,000 white-collar workers now eligible for overtime pay who earn $100,000 or more annually could lose it under the new rules, the Labor Department said.

About 1.3 million workers, mostly low- and mid-level managers at stores and restaurants, who earn less than $23,660 a year will be newly eligible. However, employers can avoid paying them overtime by raising their salaries, so critics say far fewer will benefit from overtime.

"These are drastic changes that will hurt working families," said Karen Nussbaum, executive director of Working America, an AFL-CIO organization created for workers unable to join unions.

On the web: www.dol.gov/esa/regs/compliance/whd/fairpay/

Working America: www.workingamerica.org.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.