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Old 02-14-2004, 13:54   #1
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Military training could affect overtime pay

Issue Date: February 16, 2004

Military training could affect overtime pay

By Rick Maze
Times staff writer

The Bush administration has proposed overtime rules that for the first time cite military training as a reason to deny extra pay for extra hours. But, the rules are not meant to hurt service members and veterans, Labor Department officials insist.
The regulations, due to take effect no earlier than March, mention training received in the military as a justification for a company to define an employee as a “professional” and thus exempt from consideration for overtime pay.

Military training previously was not cited in federal regulations on overtime pay. Even so, a senior Labor Department official said the proposed rules do not represent a change in policy, as some claim. Instead, the new rules seek to clarify guidance for businesses by considering 20 years of case law. In this instance, case law consists of a series of legal rulings that have sought to define who is a professional for purposes of exemption from overtime pay, based on the advanced skills needed to hold a job.

The senior official described such employees as “learned professionals,” a group that traditionally has included people in the legal, medical, teaching, science, engineering and architecture fields.

The proposed regulations talk about adding dental hygienists, accountants and chefs. Skills involving manual labor generally aren’t considered professional occupations, but the proposed rules allow for exceptions if a person works as a manager or administrator in addition to performing a trade.

Administration officials said complaints from major labor groups and some Democrats in Congress that the proposed rules would hurt veterans and reservists are nothing more than election-year politics.

“The department’s proposed rule does not take away overtime pay from military members or veterans,” Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said in a prepared statement Feb. 3.

The AFL-CIO labor group has a different view, saying in a statement that the proposed regulations would allow an employer to determine whether military training is equivalent to having a specialized college or university degree. Those in engineering, medical, scientific and technical occupations would be hurt the most, the group said.

Veterans working for defense contractors as law-enforcement officers, firefighters and air traffic controllers are particularly vulnerable, the AFL-CIO statement says.

The senior Labor Department official disagreed. Police, fire and air traffic control workers generally are not considered “learned professionals,” so military training they received would not be a factor in whether they qualify for overtime, she said.

Most military and veterans’ groups have tried to stay out of the fray. But one group, the Non Commissioned Officers Association, has sided with the Bush administration. In a Jan. 29 letter to House Republican leaders, Gene Overstreet, NCOA president, said claims that veterans will be hurt by the overtime rule changes “are patently incorrect.”

“It is a blinding glimpse of the obvious that neither the current rules nor the revised proposal will negatively impact on those who serve or have served in the uniformed services,” Overstreet wrote. He called it “outrageous” that service members are being made victims of “an emotional ploy” by Democrats to delay the overtime rules from taking effect.

Democrats opposed to the proposed rules and worried about the effect on the military are holding strategy sessions to determine what, if anything, can be done to delay or revise the plan, Democratic aides said.
Chance favors the prepared mind. Louis Pasteur
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