Labor laws, workforce changing across state

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Labor Day was set aside to recognize the contribution of the average worker, but does the average worker understand Ohio's changing labor scene?

Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor implemented new overtime regulations at the same time many analysts say Ohio's workforce continues to take big hits.

What does this mean for the average Joe? That is the magic question.

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The estimates of how many workers will lose overtime eligibility vary from 107,000 to 6 million. Calculations of workers who could become newly eligible range from just a few to 1.3 million.

"Under the new rules, workers will know their overtime rights, employers will know their responsibilities and the department can more vigorously enforce these protections," Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement.

About 11.6 million workers receive overtime pay for working more than 40 hours a week, the Labor Department has said. In all, about 115 million workers are covered by the overtime rules in the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act.

All workers who earn less than $23,661 annually are eligible for overtime pay for working more than 40 hours a week. The Labor Department says about 1.3 million workers will be newly eligible.

Blue-collar workers, police officers, firefighters and other public safety officers will not be affected by the changes. White-collar workers earning $100,000 or more a year are newly exempt from overtime pay.

At least two U.S. senators have vowed to try to repeal the changes when Congress reconvenes Sept. 7, but President George W. Bush has threatened a veto.

The labor opportunities in Ohio continue on the downward slide, according to one research group.

Jobs continued to disappear, hourly wages fell for the third consecutive year, inequality continues to widen and median wages have not grown, according to The State of Working Ohio 2004, an annual snapshot of Ohio labor pool compiled by Policy Matters Ohio, a non-profit research institute.

As of July 2004, Ohio's unemployment rate was 5.9 percent, compared with 6.3 percent from the prior year, according to Dennis Evans, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.

In Lawrence County, the percentages are a little higher, although they have not been adjusted for season changes. In July 2004, the county's unemployment rate was at 6.1, down slightly from 6.8 the prior year.

"Looking at the employment situation figures, there has been a decrease in jobs as the economic conditions reflect," Evans said. "The numbers show a decrease in jobs over the last four years. A lot of that, if you are looking for reasons, is the economy. Another factor is that productivity has increased quite a bit."

According to the study, the manufacturing sector still employs nearly one in six Ohio workers but its share of the workforce has plummeted by 29 percent, from 21.7 percent of the state's jobs in 1990 to 15.4 percent by 2004.

Household and family incomes rose in the 1990s but have declined since the year 2000. Wage and income inequality have grown substantially over the past several decades.

Ron Diamond, services coordinator for the Workforce Development Resource Center, said attracting quality jobs will be the key.

"We have a lot of unemployed. A lot of the jobs we have are entry-level in the service industry," he said. "What we need are higher paying jobs with living wages and benefits. You can't raise a family on $5.15 an hours at 20 hours a week."

"… It is one thing to be out of work and be hungry. It is another to work 40 hours a week and be hungry."

Evans believes there are quality programs out there to help bring jobs back to Ohio .

"There are a lot of programs that are offered to help keep our workforce competitive," he said.