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Senate blocks new overtime rules

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WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Wednesday to block proposed Bush administration rules that Democrats say could force millions of people to work extra hours with no overtime pay.

The 54-45 vote came on an amendment by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, to a bill funding the Labor Department and other federal agencies next year.

The battle over the rules is far from over, however. The House approved its own version of the funding bill in July that would let the new overtime rules take effect, and the two chambers must resolve their differences in a conference committee. In addition, the White House has threatened to veto any version of the spending bill that removes the overtime changes.

The dispute is over changes the Labor Department wants to make in the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. The new rules, scheduled to take effect next year, would change which employees qualify for time-and-a-half pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week.

"It makes the rules more clear so there is less opportunity to take advantage of them" unfairly, said Yvonne Ralsky, a department spokeswoman.

Under the new rules, workers earning less than $425 a week would be eligible for overtime. The current level, set in 1975, is $155 a week, and the department said the change would benefit 1.3 million people.