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Hed -- Overtime realities

For a state that fancies itself as being at the leading edge of workplace accommodation flextime, telecommuting, etc. California has been lagging badly on the basic issue of when to pay overtime.

And even after a state panel had the good sense to loosen up its rigid standard late last month, along comes a chorus of Democratic legislators who promise to overturn the decision.

It's another instance of why Sacramento never will be confused with the real world.

The decision by California's Industrial Welfare Commission was long overdue. It eliminates for many industries the requirement that hourly employees be paid overtime whenever they put in more than eight hours in a single shift. Instead, overtime would be paid if a worker puts in more than 40 hours a week.

In so doing, the state would join 47 other states as well as the federal government in setting a 40-hour standard.

The 8-hour-plus-overtime rule was conceived with good intentions. It goes back to 1918, when the state sought to protect women and children working for fruit and vegetable canning operations. One of the objectives was to minimize overtime and thus reduce the likelihood of injury due to overwork.

But a lot has changed in the last 79 years. The two-income household has created a tenuous juggling act of work and family responsibilities. As a result, work schedules are no longer limited to a strict 9-5 regiment. Flexibility is key.

Yet California's existing overtime law eschews flexibility. It just assumes that businesses will fork over time-and-a-half even when their employees fail to put in more than 40 hours a week. Never mind the extra labor costs involved (nor the businesses that leave California because of such capricious rules).

This is pretty commonsense stuff, so we're distressed that Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer, D-Hayward, is not only opposed to the revisions, but has vowed to deny confirmation to the three Wilson appointees who voted for the rule change.

It's time for Lockyer and other Democrats to put aside the knee-jerk responses to a "pro-business" mandate. The state already has been willing to allow exemptions for numerous industries such as health care where 10-hour shifts are commonplace. There's no reason why other businesses can't be given the same allowance.

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