Thursday, August 26, 2004

State holds hearing on overtime rules

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Advocates for nurses and labor unions were among those Wednesday who blasted the state Labor Department's proposal for Kentucky to adopt recently imposed federal overtime regulations.

"This regulation potentially affects a large percentage of Kentucky's work force, their earnings, business costs, job creation, retention and it has the potential to create a tremendous amount of litigation in this state," said Larry Roberts, state director of the Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council.

Kentucky is currently considering adopting new labor regulations that would closely mirror the federal regulations.

The Labor Department maintains the regulations would help Kentucky workers. However, opponents of the proposed regulations say they will only hurt workers by forcing them to work overtime without extra pay.

Ross Eisenbrey, vice president and policy director for the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, said the proposed changes would "be a disaster for working families" nationwide.

"The Bush administration has issued a very mean-spirited regulation that takes critical rights away from working families, and there's no reason for Kentucky to repeat this mistake," Eisenbrey said at the public hearing on the proposed regulations.

But Les Renkey, director of the Kentucky Department of Labor's legal division, disagreed.

Among other things, Renkey said, the regulations would eliminate confusion among employers and employees trying to determine which labor rules to follow.

The new federal overtime regulations already govern companies involved in interstate commerce and those who have an annual income of more than $500,000, Renkey said.

There may be confusion among Kentucky employers because the state's current overtime regulations don't match their federal counterparts, Renkey said. It would also help boost employees' salaries, he said.

"Contrary to most of the testimony that you heard, the most protective for most of the people at the time would be the federal," Renkey said.

However, Sharon Eli Mercer, executive director of the Kentucky Nurses' Association, said nurses would be faced with longer hours for less pay.

Still, some nurses might be asked to work mandatory overtime, without getting their usual time-and-a-half overtime pay. Nursing students might also be discouraged from entering the field because of the prospects of lower pay, she said.

"Please think about what you're doing, and hold off on this adoption," Mercer said. "This is not a good thing at this time for our patients and for our registered nurses in this state."

State labor officials would consider the public comments before adopting final regulations, Renkey said. However, they could be in place by November, he said.

"We want them to be able to tell us what their concerns are," Renkey said. "And if we can review that and make a change in the regulations to make it better for the people that testified, that's what we intend to do."

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