Several statewide business groups have launched their attempt to loosen the state's daily overtime law, backing legislation that would allow employees to seek permission from their bosses for an alternative work schedule without requiring employers to pay overtime.


The legislation faces an uphill battle amid what's expected to be sharp opposition from labor unions. The fight is likely to be intense given the prospects of an all-out initiative war between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his business allies on one side and labor unions and their Democratic allies on the other.


"With the unions caught in a battle with the governor on so many fronts, the attempt to reform daily overtime could come up as a bargaining chip," said Michael Shaw, assistant state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.


Several bills have been introduced to loosen the overtime law, though only one has gained the backing of the state's major business groups. That one would allow employees to seek permission from employers to set up a schedule of four ten-hour days, commonly referred to as a "4-10 workweek."


The legislation, by Assemblyman Van Tran, R-Costa Mesa and drafted by the California Chamber of Commerce, comes up for a hearing on April 20.


California is one of only four states requiring overtime pay (1.5 times the hourly pay rate) for hourly workers who work more than eight hours in a day; the others are Alaska, Nevada and Wyoming. All other states conform to the federal standard that requires overtime for employees who work more than 40 hours in a week, regardless of how many hours are worked in a day.


California employers have long chafed under this law, saying it limits their flexibility in arranging alternative work schedules. But labor unions and their Democratic allies say weakening daily overtime takes money away from workers and they note that the current law allows enough flexibility to set up alternative workweeks.


Eight years ago, under pressure from employers, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson overturned the daily overtime law administratively and implemented the national standard. But 18 months later, Democrat Gov. Gray Davis carried out a campaign promise and signed legislation reinstating daily overtime.


Now with Schwarzenegger in office, business groups and Republican lawmakers are trying again to loosen the restrictions.


Debate over flexibility
Two approaches are being considered. One eases the process for getting alternative workweek schedules approved; besides the Tran bill, another proposal would allow for a maximum of 12 hours worked in a day without overtime.

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