High Noon for Overtime

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Ignoring the threat of a Presidential veto, House Republicans rammed through a bill which would allow workers to choose between time off and pay for overtime. The legislation, considered by most Democrats and unions as potentially harmful to workers' rights, narrowly won House ratification by a 222-210 vote with 13 Democrats joining Republicans. If the bill passes the next legislative hurdles, it would effectively amend an existing labor law and give private employees a right many public workers have had since 1938. Under the legislation, each hour of overtime worked would equal 1/1/2 hours of paid time off with regular pay. Employees would have to consent to the comp time option and employers would have the right to not offer it. While the bill had strong GOP backing in the House, most Democrats and union leaders were against it from the start. The chief concern was that employers may be tempted to abuse the law by forcing employees who want overtime pay to accept comp time instead. "In the real world, if your boss tells you to take time off instead of getting extra pay, you either do what you are told or you start packing your gear," warned Representative Joe Moakley, a Democrat from Massachusetts. Upon the bill's passage, Republican Representative Jennifer Dunn of Washington responded, "For too long parents have had to choose between work and spending time with their children. That's a tragedy." Although President Clinton previously endorsed extending optional time off to private workers, he made it clear in a pre-vote letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich that he would veto the House bill. "Although I am prepared to support and sign a responsible comp time bill," he wrote, "I intend to veto any legislation that fails to guarantee real choice for employees, real protection against employer abuse and preservation of fair labor standards." He may soon get his chance.