Registered nurses spent last week studying the U.S. Labor Department's changes in overtime regulations, trying to determine whether they would lose out in the rules that were proposed to give 1.3 million low-wage workers extra pay benefits.
The department amended its proposed regulatory change from last year's version by guaranteeing overtime benefits for workers, including nurses, who earn less than $23,660 per year, compared with the $22,100 cap proposed earlier. Workers who earn up to $100,000 will be eligible for overtime pay but are not guaranteed to receive it, up from the $65,000 limit first proposed last March.
The regulations are set to go into effect in August, barring any legislative efforts by Congress to block them. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said he would introduce an amendment that would roll back any portion of the regulations that restricts eligibility for overtime.
RNs are paying close attention to an exemption that would deny overtime pay for workers who perform duties requiring knowledge gained in the classroom and who are paid a salary of at least $455 per week.
"We will need to withhold final judgment until we have had the opportunity to read the final rules in detail," American Nurses Association President Barbara Blakeney said.
The ANA plans to ask Labor Secretary Elaine Chao for clarification when she testifies this week in front of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said Christopher Donnellan, assistant director of government affairs for the ANA. "We still have a wait-and-see attitude," Donnellan said. "Hopefully, we can seek some clarification."
The ANA is concerned that if overtime pay is removed, employers will rely on mandatory unpaid overtime as a nurse-staffing tool. The association did not have an estimate of how many nurses would be affected by the new regulations, but a 2001 ANA survey found that 67% of nurses worked mandatory or unplanned overtime every month.
The department contends that nurses will benefit from the regulations. Approximately 75% of registered nurses are paid at an hourly rate and are not salaried, meaning that they would be eligible for overtime pay, said Tammy McCutchen, administrator of the department's wage and hour division.
Licensed practical nurses and other healthcare workers, such as emergency medical technicians, are also eligible for overtime pay because their advanced educational degrees are not considered a prerequisite for the job, McCutchen said.
"The rules strengthen overtime protection for nurses," she said. "Under the final rules, there will be less nurses who are exempt."
Michele Campbell, executive administrator of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, said the new revisions are "a step in the right direction," but she wants to review the 500-page set of regulations. Her association surveyed 450 nurses and found that 12% said one of their top concerns was mandatory overtime.
"Nurses are in a profession where there is a very high dependence on overtime," she said.