Assistant Atty. Gen. William Bradford Reynolds and Labor Secretary William E. Brock III on Tuesday endorsed legislation that would overturn the Supreme Court decision ordering overtime pay for municipal workers.
In the Reagan Administration’s strongest public denunciation of the court decision, Reynolds, the nation’s chief civil rights enforcer, said that the Justice Department was “deeply disappointed” by the justices’ reasoning. The ruling “misapprehends the fundamental role of the states in our system of government,” he argued.
Reynolds’ and Brock’s comments were the latest in a series of Administration attacks on Supreme Court decisions ranging from abortion to separation of church and state.
1938 Federal Law Cited
The justices ruled, 5 to 4, last Feb. 19 that the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act applies to state and local governments--a ruling interpreted to mean that these governments must pay overtime to all employees, including firefighters, police officers and volunteers, instead of giving them compensatory time or a choice of either.
Brock, calling the ruling a potential “nightmare,” said that it would cost jurisdictions nationwide an estimated $1 billion to $3 billion annually in overtime pay. The court decision was a “clear and direct intervention in the collective bargaining process,” he said.
Quick Passage Urged
In testimony before the Senate Labor and Human Resources subcommittee on labor, both men urged quick passage of legislation that would exempt cities and states from the overtime provisions and allow volunteers to work without pay. Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) is a co-sponsor of the bill, which was introduced by Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), the subcommittee chairman.
Now, the Labor Department has little more than a month before it must enforce the court ruling beginning Oct. 15 by investigating and possibly suing jurisdictions that fail to comply.
House Action Doubted
Although the Administration and its supporters in the Senate are pressing for legislation to beat the Oct. 15 deadline, it appears doubtful that the House will acquiesce by then--if at all. Legislation similar to that of Nickles’ is pending in the House, but some members have expressed concerns that it could erode long-standing labor protection.
Indeed, Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Los Angeles) warned Tuesday that assurances must be given that any legislation will not open the labor laws “to an infinite number of crazy amendments, which could range from eliminating the minimum wage to doing away with child labor protection.” As chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Hawkins has jurisdiction over the measure.
Meanwhile, local officials continued to seek exemptions from the court decision, arguing that the ruling would cause severe stress to already weak budgets.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana, for example, has said that the ruling would cost the county $25 million to $50 million a year in overtime. Last month, he reported “very strong” support from Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III for overturning the ruling, and on Tuesday Dana said that he was “very pleased” by the Administration’s subcommittee testimony.
Uncertainty, Confusion Seen
Similarly, Mayor Francis X. Flaherty, of Warwick, R. I., testified Tuesday that the ruling would cost his city of 87,000 at least $600,000 a year. He added: “The failure of Congress to act will inject uncertainty and confusion into employer-employee relations . . . . “
Many union officials, meanwhile, want the ruling to stand. Both the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Assn. of Police Organizations testified in favor of coverage under the fair labor laws.
Edward J. Blasie, president of the Detectives Endowment Assn. of New York, asked: “Why single out municipal and county employees to be the only ones in the entire country who should not receive overtime pay when they work overtime?”