Congress Moves to Make Comp Time an Option; More Workers Requesting Alternative to Overtime Pay

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Byline: Tom Ramstack, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Congress is trying to respond to workers' demands for more flexible schedules by changing labor laws to allow hourly workers to be compensated with paid time off instead of overtime pay.

Legislation scheduled to be introduced today by Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, is intended to respond to surveys of workers who say they want more time off, even if they must sacrifice some pay.

"People in the workplace are telling Congress there is a need to find a better balance between work and family," said Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for Mr. Gregg, who is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Similar legislation is scheduled to be introduced in the House later this month. President Bush supported the change in the Fair Labor Standards Act during his 2000 election campaign.

"Comp time" legislation has been proposed before by Republicans in the House and Senate but did not pass.

This year's legislation faces better odds. Republicans gained a majority in Congress after the November elections. In addition, Mr. Bush has notified the Labor Department to support the legislation this year.

"This is part of his proposal to help parents have more time with their children," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Labor unions are cautioning that the proposals do not go far enough in limiting the hours employers can assign workers.

The Bush administration is also examining the Depression-era labor laws to redefine which workers would be eligible for overtime pay. Some workers currently classified as salaried would be reclassified as hourly employees, which would allow them to receive overtime pay.

"Our preliminary economic analysis indicates there are a substantial number of people who will be eligible for overtime who were not eligible for overtime under the existing rules," said Mark Wilson, a Labor Department deputy assistant secretary.

About 71.4 million workers are covered by current law that requires they be paid at 11/2 times their hourly wage if they work more than 40 hours in one week. Another 53 million are salaried, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. …