Legislators to re-examine overtime in wage law

Sunday, January 28, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:33 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Next week, a Missouri Senate committee is expected to consider undoing a provision in the minimum wage proposal approved by Missouri voters in November.

The proposition was approved by three-fourths of voters in the last election and raised Missouri’s minimum wage to $6.50 per hour. But it also removed an exemption from the overtime requirements for certain workers, such as firefighters, police and emergency medical technicians.

Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County, said his measure would be combined with two others to restore the state’s overtime pay rules back to what they were before Proposition B passed in November.

“It’s bad for workers and employees,” he said. “At this point, workers aren’t happy with (the new rules).”

Loudon said that under the prior law, while the exempted workers did not get time and a half, they were getting paid. Now, he said, employers are cutting back hours to avoid the extra pay level. “They’re not getting any new money; they’re just getting less hours.”

He said that some workers, such as nurses and some commissioned sales people, would be limited in the number of hours they can work because of the change.

Although there is some disagreement over exactly what effect the new rules have on overtime pay, Sen. Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles County, said it was more important to address the issue legislatively rather than to “wait for a court case to be filed.”

Gross added that attorneys he has spoken to about the matter have not agreed with the Missouri Labor Department’s interpretation of the new rules. A Web site set up by the department to answer questions about the wage law, which became effective on Jan. 1, said firefighters and law enforcement officers, for instance, must be compensated for overtime.

A lawsuit filed against the Labor Department last week in Cole County challenges the Labor Department’s reading of the overtime provisions in the proposition, said Kevin O’Keefe, attorney for the suit’s plaintiffs. But O’Keefe said he could not speculate as to whether the bills before the Senate would sufficiently address the problem.

Columbia is estimating an increase of $800,000 in overtime pay for firefighters, police and other safety workers because of the changes, said Toni Messina, the city’s communications director.

A bill sponsored by Gross would exempt government employees from overtime pay, while another measure sponsored by Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington County, would exempt fire fighters, emergency medical workers and law enforcement officers.

Loudon, who chairs the Senate’s Business Committee, said he intended to combine the three bills.

“The other two (bills) are limited to fixing government (workers), but leave the private sector to deal with the new rules,” Loudon said, adding that his bill would correct the issue for both public and private employees.

Griesheimer said he limited his measure to public safety workers in order to avoid any conflicts over the bill with labor organizations.

“The fear was that if you broaden who you affect, you broaden opposition to it,” he said.

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