Remarks Prepared for Delivery by U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao For the Announcement of Formation of Fair Pay Enforcement Team

April 27, 2004

Good morning.

Today I am here with Wage and Hour Administrator Tammy McCutchen to announce the formation of the FairPay Enforcement Team. This 7-member team is charged with enforcing the Department of Labor’s newly updated overtime rules.

These new rules strengthen and guarantee overtime rights to more workers than ever before. 1.3 million workers will gain overtime protection when they take effect in about 120 days. And another 5.4 million workers, whose protections were ambiguous, can now be certain that they are entitled to overtime pay.

Modernizing the white-collar overtime rules is a historic achievement. They haven’t been updated since 1949. They are so outdated and confusing that many workers have to go to court to determine whether they are eligible for overtime. In fact, this area of law is responsible for more class action lawsuits than workplace discrimination complaints.

There is a better way to help workers get their overtime pay—that’s why we published these new rules. The new rules will make clear exactly which white-collar workers are eligible for overtime.

Unfortunately, special interests have launched a concerted campaign to confuse and confound workers about their rights under the new rules. The new rules are being unfairly attacked as taking away overtime pay from millions of Americans, when the exact opposite is true.

This campaign of fear and distortion is one of the reasons why the department took the unprecedented extra step of spelling out who is NOT affected by the new rules. The new rules affect white-collar workers only. Blue-collar workers, by definition, are not covered by the new rules. But to clear up any misunderstandings, the new rules clearly state—for the first time in history—that the overtime pay for police is clearly protected. The overtime pay of firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and other public safety employees is also fully spelled out and protected in the new rules.

The new rules also ensure the overtime pay of licensed practical nurses. And they make clear that all blue-collar workers, such as construction workers and factory workers, as well as union members, technicians, cooks, and all workers paid on an hourly basis who receive overtime, will continue to receive overtime.

These new overtime security rules are a great step forward for America’s workers. But these historic reforms will only help workers if they are properly enforced. And, unfortunately, all the misinformation surrounding these reforms is making this more difficult by creating a great deal of confusion.

That’s one of the principal reasons why we created this task force—to ensure that workers know their rights and employers know their responsibilities. We want them to know the facts , not the fiction being created by the opponents of reform. And I am confident that this task force, led by the outstanding Wage and Hour enforcement veterans at this podium with me, will make this a reality.

The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division already has a stellar enforcement record. Last year, the Division concluded nearly 40,000 cases. Thanks to their efforts, more than 340,000 workers received back wages. And the back wages that the Division’s staff helped those workers get amounted to more than $212 million—an 11-year high. At the same time, the number of days to resolve complaints dropped from 129 to 108—an improvement of more than 16 percent.

The FairPay Enforcement Team will ensure that the Department of Labor maintains these high standards. Tammy McCutchen, who is up here with me, has put this team together and is one of the people responsible for the Labor Department’s outstanding enforcement record.

Now I’d like to introduce the Wage and Hour veterans who will serve on this task force. The team’s leader will be Corlis Sellers. Ms. Sellers is Northeast Regional Administrator for the Wage and Hour Division. She oversees the work of more than 300 people, mostly investigators who protect workers by enforcing labor standards. Working with her will be: James Breidenstein, Martin Barrow, Patricia Davidson, Libby Hendrix, Karen Chaikin, and Bruce Clark. They have more than 175 combined years of experience enforcing our nation’s wage and hour laws.

And now, before we conclude, it is my pleasure to introduce Patrick Yoes, President of the Louisiana Fraternal Order of Police and National Sergeant at Arms of the FOP. He would like to say a few words about the new overtime protections.
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Washington, D. C. 20013
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