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California and the West

In Win for Labor, Assembly Votes to Restore 8-Hour Overtime Rule


SACRAMENTO — Acting on a centerpiece of organized labor's agenda, the state Assembly on Thursday night approved legislation requiring overtime pay to workers after an eight-hour workday.

The measure by Assemblyman Wally Knox (D-Los Angeles), passed by a 48-30 margin, restores the eight-hour overtime rule that was repealed two years ago by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson's administration. Currently, overtime for millions of employees doesn't kick in until 40 hours are worked in a single week.

"We are very happy," said Tom Rankin, president of the California Labor Federation, which pushed for the legislation (AB 60).

"What the bill does is restore about a billion dollars a year to the paychecks of working Californians that Gov. Wilson took away," Rankin said after the vote.

The measure, if approved by the Senate and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, would especially benefit part-time workers in the state's service industries, Rankin said.

Opponents in the business community have called the bill a "job killer" that would eliminate flexibility for workers. "It takes away alternative schedules for employees," said Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for the California Chamber of Commerce.

A beaming Knox predicted that his overtime legislation will be approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate and signed by the governor.

Michael Bustamante, Davis' spokesman, said the governor "made a commitment to restore the eight-hour day," and noted that the governor's office had negotiated some revisions in the Knox proposal to include greater flexibility for workers.

The bill requires that employees be paid 1 1/2 times their normal pay rate for work over eight hours and restores double-time pay for those who work more than 12 hours a day. It also directs the state Industrial Welfare Commission to adopt rules regulating employee secret-ballot elections that would be held to establish alternative work-week schedules.

The workers would need to vote by a two-thirds margin for flexible schedules under which they could work up to 10 hours a day in a 40-hour week without getting daily overtime.

Most of the Assembly's Republicans opposed the overtime measure, saying it prohibits employers and employees from reaching mutually agreeable working arrangements.

"This will punish college students more than anybody," said Assemblyman Tony Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks). He recalled how his brother worked his way through college and labored extra-long hours on some days so he could study on other days. Under the Knox bill, he maintained, that arrangement would not be possible.

Despite some favorable changes Knox made to the bill on Thursday, Fairbanks said, the Chamber of Commerce still opposes it, especially the two-thirds vote requirement for flexible schedules.

Daily overtime was first required in 1918 in an order covering women and children in the fruit and vegetable canning industry.

Over the years, the requirement was broadened to other industries, covering about 8 million people by the time it was revoked.

In another vote Thursday, the Assembly approved a proposal by Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) that would require health insurers to offer coverage to domestic partners. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, also would establish a state domestic partners registry to document eligibility.

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