AUGUSTA – The Baldacci administration proposed revamped overtime rules Tuesday that seek to preserve extra-hours pay for workers who would lose it under Bush administration regulations that took effect last week.

“The basic intent is that if you received overtime before, you will receive it again,” said state Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman.

A key distinction between the federal and proposed state rules addresses who is exempt from overtime, said Fortman, who has invited business, organized labor and other interested groups to comment before Maine’s regulations take effect.

Fortman said the state rules also seek to simplify and condense more than 500 pages of federal regulations, which took effect Aug. 23.

The federal regulations, long-sought by business groups representing retailers, insurance companies, restaurants, banks and others, say any time a worker spends in management or supervisory duties could exempt that person from overtime.

The proposed state rules say workers in most classifications would be exempt only if at least 80 percent of their time is in management. The provision mirrors the previous federal regulation that was replaced last week, Fortman said.

The state rules would be different for retail workers, whose cutoff would be 60 percent.

Fortman said a public hearing will be scheduled for the Maine rules around Oct. 1, and that the new rules proposed by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci’s administration would likely take effect in about 90 days.

“The ball is rolling now. We’re beginning that public process,” said Fortman.

The federal overtime changes have political implications in a presidential election year. Democratic nominee John Kerry called it a blow to working families’ economic security.

The Maine AFL-CIO “will be very supportive of the rule that takes care of people who currently receive overtime,” said Ned McCann, secretary-treasurer of the labor federation.

Peter Gore, State House lobbyist for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said he had not reviewed the proposed rules, but “we certainly will be weighing in with public comment.”

In general, Gore said, he has concerns that creating different standards at the state and federal levels is confusing for employers.

Another business group, the Maine chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, also expects to submit comment on the new state rule.

“It has the potential to make the overtime situation (in Maine) more onerous than it is for employers in other states,” said the NFIB’s David Clough.

Estimates vary widely on how many workers nationally stand to lose overtime eligibility under the newly adopted federal regulations. The Bush administration says 107,000 workers will lose, while about 1.3 million will gain it under new salary thresholds.

But estimates by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal Washington think tank, said 6 million will no longer be covered by overtime. In Maine, Fortman said she was not aware of any classes of workers who would lose overtime under the state’s revision.

Adoption of the federal rules last week drew a protest at the U.S. Labor Department by several hundred union members.



On the Net:

Maine Department of Labor: http://www.state.me.us/labor/

AP-ES-08-31-04 1726EDT



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