Millions of Workers May Benefit From Federal Wages, Hours Standards
WASHINGTON (AP) _ State and local employees such a police, fire and mass transit workers should be included under federal wages and hour standards, the Labor Department said in a ruling that could mean pay boosts for 7 million Americans.
The department’s ruling, which includes formulas to calculate overtime hours worked, implements a Supreme Court decision in February instructing the Labor Department to enforce wage and hour standards for state and local governments.
The policy will be retroactive to April 15 and, ″if violations are found, the department will determine back pay due employees from that date,″ the department said Friday.
Of the roughly 13 million state and local government employees, about 7 million are covered by the policy, said Jim Valin, assistant administrator for the Labor Department’s wage and hour division.
An estimated 6 million employees are exempt under federal law. They include school teachers and administrators and government supervisory personnel.
Workers in many other government jobs, such as electrical power workers and employees of state alcoholic beverage stores, have been protected by the federal wage and hour law for many years.
In its 5-4 decision Feb. 19, the court said in a case from San Antonio, Texas, that the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets minimum wage and overtime requirements, applies to transit systems owned and operated by state, local and county governments. The court ruling applied to firefighters and police officers as well.
The court discarded a 1976 doctrine holding that all ″traditional″ local government services are exempt from federal wage and hour regulations.
The minimum wage and overtime provisions applied to publicly owned mass transit workers are the same obligations that ″hundreds of thousands of other employers, public as well as private, have to meet,″ Justice Harry A. Blackmun said in his opinion.
Groups representing state and local governments have predicted the ruling will mean major cost increases, particularly to pay overtime for such employees as bus drivers, whose normal work day may stretch over more than 12 hours to accommodate morning and evening rush hours.
Federal law requires covered employers to pay workers a minimum hourly wage and no less than 11/2 times their regular pay for each hour worked in excess of 40 hours a week.
Most transit workers earn more than the federal minimum wage of $3.35 an hour, but they generally are not entitled to overtime pay at the federally required rate.