Working families victorious in Senate

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The “public be damned” attitude of the Bush administration was dealt a set back Sept. 10, when the Senate voted 54-45 to maintain the current overtime pay laws covering eight million U.S. workers.

“[This] is perhaps the most important victory that we have had for working families in some time,” Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) told reporters. Applauding the lobbying campaign by America’s working men and women, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called the Senate vote a “tremendous victory” and singled out Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin for leading the fight and Republican senators “who broke ranks with their leaders and the White House to vote to protect American families and their families instead of boosting corporate profits.”

The Harkin amendment, attached to a $138 billion spending bill for labor, health and education programs, effectively blocked the Bush administration’s ability to change the overtime rules established in 1938 by the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Harkin amendment allows the Labor Department to expand the number of workers eligible for overtime pay, but stops it from denying overtime pay to those who are entitled to it now. The legislation now goes back to the House of Representatives to work out a compromise.

Bush’s proposed rule change would be devastating for young, two-income families like the Kurtyczs of Norwalk, Ohio. Robert Kurtycz, 25, is a union member, but his wife, Holly is a nurse in a non-union hospital. She stands to lose 25 percent of her income under Bush’s scheme, which would deny her overtime pay for hours worked beyond the standard 40-hour workweek.

If the Bush administration were to be successful, said Sweeney, it “would also rob our economy of yet another incentive for employers to create jobs, as it encourages employers to work existing employees longer hours rather than hiring new workers.”

Currently, 8.9 million U.S. workers are collecting unemployment checks due to plant closings and lay-offs. Economists estimate that 15 million workers are actually jobless. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not count workers whose benefits have expired or first time job seekers.

With the appropriations bill on its way back to the House, Sen. Harkin said he sees a “a good chance” to expand the number of workers eligible for overtime pay after 40 hours and to bar the administration from reducing the number of qualified workers. President Bush said he will veto the entire bill if the provision is included.

For months, the AFL-CIO, its affiliate unions and allies have waged a relentless lobbying effort to halt the latest Bush attack on workers’ living standards. Letters, e-mails, faxes, and shoe leather on the floors of Congress consolidated the Democrats. The lone Democrat to vote with Bush was Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia. Six Republicans, including Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, broke with the administration.

Tim Waters, national coordinator for the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) Rapid Response, the union’s rank and file network of shop floor activists, told the World that both Alaska senators voted with working families. “It shows the state of economy,” he said. “Both Alaska senators voted against Bush, even though workers in that state tend to be higher paid members of the Teamsters and other unions. Unions are not just there for the smaller picture, but to provide a voice for all workers.”

The author can be reached at dwinebr696@aol.com