Friday, January 23, 2004
Taking care of business
On Tuesday of this past week, one of my senators, Arlen Specter (that is, not the guy who fantasizes about man-on-dog sex), in his capacity as chairman of the labor appropriations subcommittee, called Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to a hearing to review the Department of Labor’s proposed changes in the rules governing overtime pay.
Perhaps you’ve heard about these new rules. By changing the definitions of “professional,” “executive,” and “administrative” employees, the Department of Labor will-- by its own estimate-- render 644,000 American workers ineligible for overtime. But that number, like all numbers that come out of this administration, is utter garbage. In fact, the proposal itself says that another 1.5 to 2.7 million workers “will be more readily identified as exempt.”
Yet even that doesn’t tell the story, because the Labor Department estimate only counts workers who are currently paid overtime-- not all workers covered by overtime protections. The Economic Policy Institute puts that number at 8 million.
And get this: In keeping with my earlier theory about how the Bush administration treats military veterans, the new regulations would render everyone ineligible for overtime who learned their trade while serving in the armed forces. You know, every time I’ve thought that these plutocrats and their toadies can’t get any scummier or more vile, I’ve been wrong. Last summer, Greg Palast had a few choice words on the subject:
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.
OK, so on Tuesday Secretary Chao appeared before this Senate subcommittee, and here’s what she said:
“Our intent is not to take away overtime-- not at all. Our purpose is to protect workers.”
My sources tell me that Chao later elaborated on this remark: “We have no intention of taking away overtime! Seriously! Why would you think that?” she said. “Taking away overtime is the last thing on our minds. We would never dream of taking away overtime. We have always been opposed to taking away overtime, and these new regulations will ensure that no one’s overtime is taken away. You can trust me on that.” Asked about the regulation’s explicit language “exempting” workers from overtime, Secretary Chao replied, “We will not take away overtime. We are merely protecting workers-- from, er-- ah, from-- from overtime.”
Now, professors don?t get paid overtime, so of course I have no direct stake in this one. But back in the day, my weekly overtime pay was the only reason I made enough money to afford the expenses of graduate school. For many people, it’s what makes all the difference, month by month. All those people could do themselves a big favor later this year by firing Chao and this whole nasty, cruel, greedy, disgusting crew she works with. And over the longer term, folks, let’s try to establish a general consensus in this country that people who want to eliminate taxes on unearned wealth while slashing pay for ordinary workers are simply morally unfit for public office.