High-tech workers across the country could see smaller paychecks under an industry-led campaign to revise labor laws to further limit overtime benefits.
Some of the multinational firms that are behind the effort, such as IBM and Intel, say the changes are necessary to keep jobs from going overseas, where workers in technology are paid a fraction of U.S. wages.
Computer workers, however, see it as an effort to squeeze more work out of employees for less pay in an industry that’s notorious for killer hours and all-nighters.
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat from North Carolina, introduced the bill last fall to expand the kinds of technology workers who aren’t automatically entitled to overtime. Her measure widens the pool to those whose duties include securing, configuring, integrating and debugging computer systems, she said.
Jim Kerick, a client support engineer at NetApp in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, has a salaried position and doesn’t put in a lot of extra hours, but he’s still worried about the revision. He said he’d been laid off three times because of industry ups and downs, and he knows that no one who’s making a living in computers and technology can count on staying in the same job forever.
When he started working in the industry in the 1990s, he worked as much as 90 hours a week. He used the overtime he earned to make the down payment on his home. He’s not eager to work such long hours regularly again without being compensated for it.
“I’m not an indentured servant,” he said. “I’m allowed to have a life.”
The potential impact is significant. More than 3 million people work in computer-related occupations, including 408,000 in California, 250,000 in Texas, 140,000 in Florida, 105,000 in Washington state and 68,000 in Missouri, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employees and employers now disagree about how many of these workers are entitled to overtime.
It’s unclear how many people would be affected. But many already aren’t entitled to automatic overtime pay, which is defined as time and a half after 40 hours of work in a workweek. Employers can pay for overtime if they choose even if federal law doesn’t require it.