Overworked On Labor Day: It’s Time To Restore The 40 Hour Work Week

By pscott http://skycoast.us/pscott/overtime.html

In California, a nurse that had completed her evening shift was told that she would have to work the night shift as well. She protested, informing her superiors that she had been up since 8 a.m. with her children, and that she was too tired to think straight. Although she explained that she was not fit to work a second shift, she was made to do so.

After nearly 14 hours on the job, around 5 a.m., the nurse gave a patient an IV cardiac stimulant that was twice the prescribed dose. The error was caught and the patient was OK, but this is one of the near miss incidents brought forth by the California Nurses Association detailing the risk involved with mandatory overtime, also referred to as compulsory overtime.

Overtime is considered to be mandatory when a worker can expect to be penalized if they decline to work extra hours, the foremost penalty being termination from the job.

Today, the amount of hours worked by Americans is a far cry from the efforts made by organized labor and the Eight-hour day movement of the late 1800s. Their slogan of, “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what you will,” became the rallying cry for what resulted in an eight-hour workday for most Americans by the middle of the 20th century. However, research shows that more than 25 percent of U.S. men, and 11 percent of U.S. women work more than 50 hours per week.

Currently, there is no federal law that regulates mandatory overtime. While the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that most jobs pay time-and-a-half for work of more than 40 hours per week, an employer can require their employees to work as many hours as they see fit.

Though there are benefits to overtime (For employers: increased output from workers, and not having to hire additional employees. For workers: increased pay), working extensive hours presents risks to individuals in terms of health and social welfare, along with public safety concerns when these individuals are law enforcement officials, health and medical professionals, and other workers that perform jobs essential to the public well-being.

Research conducted by Lonnie Golden of Penn State University at Abington, found that almost one in every five workers are required to work mandatory overtime.

Individuals most likely to work jobs that require mandatory overtime are mostly non-white males with lower levels of education. Foreign-born citizens are also more likely to work jobs that require mandatory overtime. Also, positions that require mandatory overtime tend to be lower paying jobs.

Individuals who are required to work mandatory overtime, compared to workers that are not subject to mandatory overtime, are more likely to have work adversely affect their social welfare pertaining to their family life, and the individual’s physical health.

According to Golden, “Long hours and too many competing demands on one’s time tend to reduce employees’ sense of work-family balance.” Golden expounds on this by saying:

Moreover, when married mothers are employed for more hours per week, it adversely affects marital quality by decreasing couples’ time together or increasing feelings of role conflict, work overload or inequity in the division of labor within a household…Working parents that experience overload and stress tend to transfer this to children.

Pertaining to an individual’s physical well-being, Golden’s research, and other studies find that extended working hours are associated with adverse physiological consequences. Some of these consequences include increased chances of workers being injured, and suffering from fatigue and stress. Long working hours also increase the chances of individuals suffering from medical ailments like hypertension, diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Mandatory overtime, and the issues that come with working extended hours, have been fought by workers for decades. A simple Google search of the words “mandatory overtime strike” produces headlines like:

Attempts to curb mandatory overtime have been made through collective bargaining and legislation to regulate mandatory overtime. While the results have been minimal, legislation passed at the state level has been the most effective route of addressing mandatory overtime.

A 2005 study found that less than 10 percent of newly negotiated collective bargaining contracts tackled the issue of mandatory overtime, via limiting hours or giving workers the right to refuse overtime. Collective bargaining deals are believed to have limited language about mandatory overtime because unions often prefer to expend their bargaining leverage on issues of higher priority, like protecting jobs and compensation levels.

However, more than one-third of states have passed laws that place restriction on mandatory overtime. California, for example, gives an employee the right to refuse overtime if that employee worked at least 72 hours during the previous workweek. Also, in 2012, Massachusetts passed a law protecting nurses from working “excessive hours.”

Other states that place some restrictions on mandatory overtime are Alaska, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington and West Virginia.

In his research, Golden discussed policy proposals that have been advocated by proponents of limiting mandatory overtime. These policies include, increasing the time-and-a-half income for overtime work, including a standard in the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to cover extended or unusual work shifts, and having the International Labor Organization (ILO) define excessive overtime as “forced labor.” The ILO has addressed this issue by saying:

The imposition of overtime does not constitute forced labour, as long as it is within the limits permitted by national legislation or collective agreements. Above those limits, it is appropriate to examine the circumstances in which a link arises between an obligation to perform overtime work and the protection against forced labour.

Although workers may in theory be able to refuse to work beyond normal working hours, their vulnerability means that in practice they may have no choice and are obliged to do so in order to earn the minimum wage or keep their jobs, or both. In cases in which work or service is imposed by exploiting the worker’s vulnerability, under the menace of a penalty, dismissal or payment of wages below the minimum level, such exploitation ceases to be merely a matter of poor conditions of employment; it becomes one of imposing work under the menace of a penalty which calls for protection of the workers.

The most recent ILO rankings of worker productivity placed America atop the list of nations based on labor productivity per person, by a wide margin. However, it must be acknowledged that this is due in large part to productivity per hour worked. While Americans should take pride in work and being the engine to the largest economy in the world, we must ensure that every citizen has the opportunity to dedicate time to other aspects of life. Currently, millions of Americans are limited in the way they can confront the work-life balance because of the amount of hours they are required to work.

As we celebrate Labor Day, and the many benefits provided to workers by the labor movement, it is important to understand that there are still challenges we must confront as a nation to ensure better working conditions for all Americans.