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Overtime bill passes assembly

Greg Risling

Throw down the weapons and cast aside the body armor because this battle on the steps of the state Capitol is tooth and nail.

A verbal sparring match has erupted among legislators over daily overtime benefits that is dividing the business community and jeopardizing millions of dollars on California paychecks.

The state Assembly voted Tuesday 42-32 in favor of AB 15, which would retain daily overtime to be paid at time-and-half and double time for 12 or more hours. The bill will move on to Republican-led Senate no later than September.

Assemblymember Wally Knox, D-Los Angeles, authored the bill to block an April 11 decision made by the Industrial Welfare Commission to abolish the daily overtime law and follow the federal lead by rewarding employees overtime pay after a 40-hour week. California is one of only three states that regulates overtime pay after an eight-hour work day.

Fourth District Assemblymember Rico Oller (R-San Andreas) voted against the bill. He felt that employment trends have changed dramatically since the 1930s when the daily overtime law was enacted.

“Workers need the flexibility to spend more time with their families and tend to personal business,” said Oller. “The no vote was a good way to go.”

Eliminating bonus wages has far-reaching impacts in other domains such as single-income families, child care availability and even gender bias, according to AB 15 advocates. Adhering to a weekly regiment, say opponents, will provide workers with more flexible work schedules and greater results.

Knox said employees stand to lose more than $800 million in wages if IWC’s decision is upheld and enforced after Jan. 1, 1998. He is hedging his bet that Gov. Pete Wilson will veto his bill if it passes the Senate chambers.

“At this point, I don’t think Gov. Wilson would sign the bill,” said Knox. “It’s possible that the governor didn’t fully understand how many Californians are attached to the eight-hour day.”

The bill specifies alternative work schedules, such as four 10-hour days, as an exemption to the eight-hour rule. Two-thirds of the employee base must agree upon a flex schedule.

The California Chamber of Commerce argues that AB 15 restricts alternative work schedules and limits employers’ options.

“Allowing for payments of overtime after a 40-hour work week rather than on a daily basis will permit employers to provide scheduling for individual workers, thereby giving them the opportunity to balance their work and personal lives,” said IWC chair Robyn Black.

The industries that have the most to gain or lose from this dispute are hotels, restaurants and retail businesses that predominately hire employees by the hour. Workers covered by collective bargaining agreements aren’t affected by the wage war.

Women and part-time employees may suffer the most without daily overtime pay, according to UC Berkeley professor Harley Shaiken. His study found that California women outnumber men in the lowest-paying jobs and account for 60 percent of the state part-time labor force.

Part-timers would run into some serious problems under the IWC ruling. Prohibiting daily overtime pay could undermine basic provisions and the opportunity to reach the 40-hour threshold.

Tahoe’s reliance on the 24-hour gaming industry doesn’t put residents in the same bind as people in other cities. Since some businesses operate at unusual hours, resources like day care are available during the evening.

Several business owners stated they support overtime pay after 40 hours because employees can rack up the bonus time with unforeseen circumstances.

“I’m torn between the two options because I want to compensate my employees for their hard work, but it’s hard to swallow a lot of overtime daily because it wasn’t in the budget,” said Ray Ortner, owner of All-American Cleaning. “I appreciate the flex opportunities to pay overtime after 40 hours.”

Steve Yonker of Yonker Construction concurs with Ortner on the issue. He said his employees don’t abuse overtime, estimating that 1 percent of the paychecks reflect the additional work.

“We work outdoors a lot and if we’re rained or snowed out, the employees sometime can’t make up the work,” he said. “We try to keep our workdays within the eight-hour frame but there are pressing requests and emergencies that we respond to.”


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