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Senate Bill Has IT Pro Overtime Pay in Crosshairs

By - Source: Toms IT Pro
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Senate bill to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act would eliminate overtime pay for many IT workers.

I once worked 33+ hours straight trying to get a patient documentation system back online.  As a gift for my hard work, via upper management, my CIO gave me 15 dollars worth of coffee shop gift cards as part of an “employee retention” program.  Apparently, I was going to need the energy from the coffee as I had to cancel my vacation plans and stick around for the rest of the week in case we had any outage-related problems. Since I was a “manager-class” employee (managing computers, not people), I wasn’t compensated for my time and was asked to remain available for the rest of the week.

Of course, this wasn’t the only time that I worked long hours.  Other times I worked late out of pride and to a certain degree, I wanted to prove my worth to and for the enterprise (call me Boxer).  That one particular time, though, the fact that it was pretty much uncompensated hurt the most.  I lost personal time at home, had to skip classes and couldn’t do a lot of the after-hour activities I enjoyed.

Those gift cards didn’t make me feel better, either.  Instead, I felt they were given to keep me working, like hay to a horse the day before the big plow. 

Having interviewed for jobs with other companies, I found employers that gave overtime-pay, training and policy-based comp-time for their IT staff.  Also, regarding on-call availability, you get compensated for the time you work post-notification.  Except for an occasional “comp” day from a manager trying to get around the system, I didn’t have most of those options.  There was nothing written that compensates the employee and/or enriches their existence; we just had to be happy to be employed.

After leaving IT support last year, I found that Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) in North Carolina is sponsoring SB1747, a bill called the “Computer Professionals Update” (or “CPU Act”, for short).  It amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 by increasing the IT workers “exempt” pool, thus eliminating overtime for a larger group of IT workers.  The following section defines which of these added IT positions are:

“Section 13(a)(17) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. 213(a)(17)) is amended to read as follows:

‘(17) any employee working in a computer or information technology occupation (including, but not limited to, work related to computers, information systems, components, networks, software, hardware, databases, security, internet, intranet, or websites) as an analyst, programmer, engineer, designer, developer, administrator, or other similarly skilled worker, whose primary duty is—

‘(A) the application of systems, network or database analysis techniques and procedures, including consulting with users, to determine or modify hardware, software, network, database, or system functional specifications;

‘(B) the design, development, documentation, analysis, creation, testing, securing, configuration, integration, debugging, modification of computer or information technology, or enabling continuity of systems and applications;

‘(C) directing the work of individuals performing duties described in subparagraph (A) or (B), including training such individuals or leading teams performing such duties; or

‘(D) a combination of duties described in subparagraphs (A), (B), and (C), the performance of which requires the same level of skill; who is compensated at an hourly rate of not less than $27.63 an hour or who is paid on a salary basis at a salary level as set forth by the Department of Labor in part 541 of title 29, Code of Federal Regulations. An employee described in this paragraph shall be considered an employee in a professional capacity pursuant to paragraph (1).’.

Basically, this means that DBA’s, software developers, system administrators, etc., pretty much everyone related to hands-on IT, would not be eligible for overtime at a Federal level if they make more than $27.64 an hour.

According to the Library of Congress’ Thomas website the CPU Act was introduced in October of 2011, yet if you ask around, not many know about the bill’s impact or existence.  Currently, the bill is at the “Referred to Committee” stage of the legislative process and is in the hands of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, which includes Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Al Franken (D-MN) and Kay Hagan(D-NC).  Of course, members of this committee are also backed by contributors like Bank of America, AT&T Inc, Blue Cross and Citigroup so it’s pretty easy to figure out why some member of the committee could be influenced to support the Computer Professionals Update. 

Not too long after finding out about the CPU Act, I posted my reaction to it on Facebook, where I pointed out that IT folks have lives and ending overtime for so many of them would be unfair.  One reply I got was from someone who’s a manager in the insurance industry.  They basically said that long hours and uncompensated time are part of the price you pay for being an on-call professional.  If that were the case, then where’s the professional level compensation that physicians get? 

IT pros should be fairly compensated for their time. Seriously, when we take on a job, we generally have the expectation that we may get called in, but that can be easily abused because of deadlines, mismanagement and emergencies. 

Is our only option to find a new job?  Maybe…

A few weeks ago, I was forwarded an email from a reader who blamed his poor health and the death of a friend on their jobs in healthcare IT.  Long hours, lack of training, impossible projects and deaf-to-the-ear managers took its toll.  In the end, this prompted him to leave that position and go elsewhere and it sounds like he’s in a better place now; however the email was full of frustration and warning, touching a chord and reminding me of where I was before coming on board at Bestofmedia and Tom’s IT Pro

Sure somebody can try to find a new job somewhere, but if benefits like overtime compensation are taken away across the board, it makes finding a new job less desirable.  Think about it; what’s to keep managers, directors, CTOs and CIOs from exploiting employees’ time and health if they don’t have to pay more money so that some grandiose project that was under-staffed and under-planned gets finished? 

I’m not much of a Union person myself, but if the AFL-CIO and SAG grew out of the need to protect their members, maybe IT workers should do the same.

Ed. Note:  Two emails sent via Sen. Kay Hagan's website have yet to be responded from.

Julio Urquidi is the Technical Editor at Tom's IT Pro. Previously, he spent 17 years in healthcare-related enterprise IT. Julio’s most recent responsibilities centered around virtualization, but he is also well-versed in Linux, Windows and systems administration. Specializing in articles that help small companies with limited budgets leverage technology, he has been a contributing editor to Tom's Hardware. See here for all of Julio's Tom's IT Pro articles.