Here is an interesting article that causes concern:
Nurses outraged by plan to strip health professionals of overtime pay
By Joan Fleischer Tamen
Posted June 25 2003
Diane Flock is a nurse, not an activist.
She normally doesn't pay much attention to what's happening in Washington, D.C., thinking it's a world away from what she does every day caring for Alzheimer's and elderly dementia patients at Florida Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale.
But in recent weeks, Flock, a nurse from Sunrise, has become politicized, outraged over a quiet move by the U.S. Department of Labor that could strip registered nurses and other health professionals nationwide from overtime pay.
"I really couldn't believe it the first time I read it. I read it again," said Flock, 57, who's been a nurse for 27 years. "Then I got angry."
She mobilized other nurses at the hospital where she works to sign a letter of protest and sent it to officials at the U.S. Department of Labor, Florida congressmen and the Florida Nurses Association. She's speaking out and writing opinion articles for nursing publications in an attempt to get others to write to government regulators before a public comment period ends June 30.
The Labor Department changes do not require congressional approval, but the rules could be tweaked in response to the public comments before going into effect late this year or early next year.
"In the elevator, I will ask a nurse if she's aware of the labor department plan, and no one's heard of it," Flock said. "It infuriates me that this is quietly going ahead."
She is especially upset because new overtime rules that cut out nurses leave intact overtime pay for trade workers such as electricians, mechanics and longshoremen.
"Could it be that men have a powerful union that would storm the White House?" she asked.
On March 31, the government proposed changing certain federal regulations of overtime pay exemptions for the first time in more than 50 years.
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act mandates that workers -- except those classified as executive, administrative or professional -- be paid time-and-a-half their hourly rate after they work 40 hours a week.
But the proposed revisions essentially would eliminate overtime pay for white-collar workers paid $65,000 or more a year, while guaranteeing overtime to workers paid less than $22,100 a year.
Labor officials say they are modernizing 50-year-old wage regulations and revising job duties for overtime exemption in a 21st-century workplace.
"Updating these regulations is long overdue," said Alfred Robinson Jr., senior policy adviser in the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division. "These rules are more relevant to today's workplace, and they are easier to understand and apply."
Robinson does not think the proposal would eliminate overtime pay for many nurses.
"Many nurses are and will continue to be paid overtime due to collective bargaining agreements," he said.
Few nurses, like most workers in Florida, belong to a union.
And the proposal would exclude millions of white-collar workers from overtime if they fall into one of a number of categories such as "learned professionals," under which nurses, pharmacists, medical technologists and other health professionals fall.
"They raised the floor but lowered the ceiling," said Christopher Donnellan, a lobbyist for the American Nurses Association in Washington, D.C. "Overall, it cuts out hundreds of thousands of workers from overtime pay. For nurses, it is especially devastating. Many rely on overtime pay to make ends meet."
If the proposed regulations become law, employers would have discretion to offer time-and-a-half hourly wages for overtime. Some might choose to pay just the regular hourly rate, offer paid time off at or simply require the extra work time at no additional compensation.
Doctors in hospitals don't get paid overtime, but nurses and other health care professionals routinely do. With a pervasive nursing shortage, many hospitals rely on overtime to maintain adequate staffing on nights, weekends and holidays.
Supervisors will seek out volunteers, but if there are none, it can be mandatory. Overtime may be from four to 16 hours after the regular shift
"Many people don't think mandatory overtime exists but it does," said Donnellan of the national nurses group. "Now they want to take the money out of nurses' hands?
"In some facilities, nurses are threatened with dismissal or with the charge of patient abandonment if they refuse to accept overtime. Nurses are the only health care professionals who can lose their license if found guilty of patient abandonment. Therefore, many nurses have no choice when confronted by a request for overtime, and many regularly work shifts well over 12 hours."
In South Florida, the average hourly wage is $24 for an experienced nurse and $19 for an entry-level nurse, according to Leslie Homsted, a director at the Florida Nurses Association in Orlando.
"What we're trying to do is raise nurses' salaries and improve working conditions," Homsted said. "The latest survey shows Florida alone has a shortage of 9,000 nurses."
Since the mid-1990s, nurses have left their profession for less stressful and more lucrative careers, nurses and health care industry executives said. Surveys show that nurses report increasing dissatisfaction with their work in hospitals that have cut staff and increased nurse-to-patient ratios and that have replaced staff nurses with agency temps.
Ruth Tappen, eminent scholar and professor at Florida Atlantic University's College of Nursing in Boca Raton, worries that curtailing overtime pay could deteriorate morale among experienced nurses already working in stressful hospital settings.
"We're burning them out," Tappen said. "We need to be looking at ways to improve working conditions. This won't help the situation."
But the Florida Hospital Association counters that hospitals in Florida have already made great strides in retaining nurses.
"Our members have made it a priority to keep their nurses," said Rich Rasmussen, spokesman for the association in Tallahassee. "We've reduced the nurse vacancy rate down this year to 9.9 percent from the 15 percent of just a few years ago."
Rasmussen doubts that hospitals that have worked hard to keep their nurses will jeopardize that by cutting overtime pay.
Flock wants to think that, too. But she's also seen the effects of severe budget constraints at other health care facilities where she's worked. She knows of many nurses who are single mothers and rely on overtime shifts to supplement their income.
"I'm passionate about nursing," Flock said. "It's the only career I've ever wanted. I see some younger people become frustrated and don't find nursing to be the most desirable career. We should be doing everything to keep them in the profession."
Her co-workers applaud her efforts to bring attention to the possibility of losing overtime pay.
"Without Diane, we never would have heard of it," said Aneita Grant, 29, a psychiatric nurse from Jamaica, who worked there for three years in a hospital before immigrating here seven months ago. "With short staffing, they're often looking for volunteers for overtime. I often do an extra shift for the extra cash, but if there's no extra compensation, why would we do it?"
Joan Fleischer Tamen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Jun 25, 2003
I do not understand how the government can allow different tiers for overtime. Am I being naiive when I question the differnce of a ssalaried employee (mangement healthcare workersand physicians) versus hourly compensated employees (nurses etc)?