U.S. Department of Labor Retreats on Overtime Changes
Detailed Analysis Needed To Confirm Long Term Effects
- In response to vocal criticism from a wide array of groups, including the American Nurses Association (ANA) and Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, the Bush administration has revised its proposed changes to the federal overtime pay rules. The revised Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) rules, announced today by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), will allow workers who earn up to $100,000 a year to be eligible for overtime pay, a significant increase from the $65,000 cutoff point announced in March 2003, when the rule changes were first proposed.
Under the final rules, more low-wage workers would become eligible for overtime pay than originally proposed. The new rules also specify that police officers, fire fighters, emergency medical technicians and licensed practical nurses would be eligible for overtime pay.
"It looks as if the Department of Labor has responded to the negative feedback with several significant steps in the right direction," said ANA President Barbara A. Blakeney, MS, APRN,BC, ANP. "However, we will need to withhold final judgment until we have had the opportunity to read the final rules in detail and examine how they will affect registered nurses," she added. "On first reading, the rules continue to be vague about whether or not RNs will have overtime pay protections," Blakeney said.
The DOL reportedly received more than 75,000 letters commenting on the proposed changes to the rules over the last year.
In January, Patti Hefner, an RN from Pennsylvania, testified on behalf of ANA before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. Hefner told the subcommittee, "The implementation of these proposed revisions to the FLSA will have implications for [nurses'] practice, their work environment and the quality of patient care they provide."
ANA also is concerned that, if the economic disincentive of paying time-and-a-half is removed, employers are even more likely to rely on mandatory overtime as a regular nurse-staffing tool. A survey by ANA found that more than two-thirds of nurses already report working some form of mandatory, or unplanned, overtime every month. At a time when, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there already is a shortage of nearly 139,000 registered nurses in the United States, ANA believes federal pay guidelines should encourage the recruitment and retention of nurses. Raising doubts in the minds of hard-working RNs, as well as potential nurses, about whether they will qualify for overtime pay does not accomplish that goal.