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WASHINGTON -- A House vote to overturn new Bush administration rules on which workers qualify for overtime pay was hailed by Democrats trying to convince undecided voters they are the party that better protects worker rights, reported the Associated Press.
The House voted 223-193 to stop the Labor Department from carrying out the new rules. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called it a "rare victory for middle-class Americans."
"President Bush's overtime regulations will affect 6 million workers," with some losing 25 percent of their incomes, Pelosi said.
Those figures were strongly disputed by the White House and the Labor Department, which said the biggest overhaul of overtime rules in more than 50 years would add more than 1 million mostly lower-paid workers to those eligible for overtime. The new regulations went into effect on Aug. 23.
The overtime vote was an amendment to a $142.5 billion spending bill for health, education and job training programs in 2005. The White House has threatened to veto the entire bill if the overtime language is included.
It's unlikely to get to that point. House Republican Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said he was confident the language would be stripped when the House and Senate, which have yet to consider the bill, meet to work out the final version. By that time, he said, there will be "overwhelming evidence" the new rules are benefiting tens of thousands of workers.
But Democrats and labor unions said the vote was still another milestone in the struggle to stop the rule changes. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said the vote "underscores the bipartisan opposition to George Bush's war on overtime pay."
The Obey-Miller amendment would protect overtime eligibility for any worker who had it before Aug. 23. It would preserve one provision of the new rules that expands overtime pay to workers earning up to $23,660.
Opponents of the rules and their supporters have presented vastly different scenarios of their possible effects. Opponents warn that the overtime protections of some 6 million workers -- chefs, nurses, police officers, journalists, athletic trainers, lower-level computer employees and those who perform small amounts of supervisory work -- would be weakened by the rules.
But the Labor Department said 1.3 million workers who earn less than $23,660 a year would become eligible, while about 107,000 white-collar workers making $100,000 or more could lose eligibility. It said increased clarity on who is entitled to overtime would also reduce the confusion that has led to expensive lawsuits.
The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS voted) opposed the Obey-Miller amendment, according to Allison Shulman, director of government affairs for the Albany, N.Y.-based organization. "We support the modernization of the overtime rules and regulations," said Shulman. "We are disappointed with the House's action, however, it's not the final step to enactment."