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Chao defends overtime plan

WASHINGTON -- Labor Secretary Elaine Chao told Congress yesterday that new overtime regulations would strengthen ''protection for more American workers than ever before," but a former federal investigator countered that the rules would subtly undermine eligibility of nursery school teachers, nurses, and others.

Appearing before a House committee, Chao said the regulations would mean guaranteed overtime protection for 1.3 million salaried workers who earn $455 a week or less. ''They are predominantly married with less than a college degree and live in the South," she said.

Other workers earning up to $100,000 also will benefit, she told the Education and Workforce Committee, adding that the first overhaul in federal overtime rules in more than a half century would sweep away confusion that has led to a rash of lawsuits.

The regulations have become a political flash point, with Democrats vowing to try to block them from taking effect in August.

Republicans in Congress have expressed relief that the regulations revise last year's draft of the rules and clarify that police, firefighters, and other first responders would remain eligible for overtime, and that veterans would not be disqualified from premium pay on the basis of their military service or training.

But Democrats argue that the proposal would hurt millions of workers earning between $23,660 and $100,000.

Karen D. Smith, a former wage and hour investigator at the Labor Department, told the committee that the new rule ''artfully weakens the current regulation in very subtle but significant ways that will surprise employers and employees."

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