WASHINGTON

GOP supports overtime rule revision

Republicans yesterday embraced election-year revisions to the
nation’s overtime pay rules, saying changes to an earlier
Bush administration plan will take away extra pay from far fewer
white-collar workers.

Democrats expressed skepticism. The administration, said Sen.
Tom Harkin of Iowa, “simply is not trustworthy on the
issue.”

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said the final version, released
yesterday, would allow more white-collar workers to remain eligible
for overtime than in a draft proposal issued 13 months ago.
Blue-collar workers are unaffected.

“Workers will clearly know their rights and employers will
clearly know their responsibilities,” she said. The
revisions, which do not need congressional approval, will take
effect in 120 days.

Workers who gain overtime protections include lower-wage retail
and restaurant managers. Middle-income workers such as office
workers, cooks, inspectors, paralegals, licensed practical nurses
and technicians “will have their rights better
protected,” the department said. Police officers,
firefighters and emergency medical technicians are named as holding
jobs that will not lose overtime protections.

The revisions would permit those earning up to $100,000 a year
to continue collecting premium pay if they log more than 40 hours a
week.

Workers losing overtime include pharmacists, funeral directors
and financial services experts. Department officials said legal
challenges and case law have made clear those jobs are exempt from
overtime.

Democrats were wary of the changes.

“It’s possible that the administration has had an
election-year conversion on overtime, but I hope you’ll
pardon me if I remain skeptical,” said Harkin. He led Senate
opposition to the earlier version of the proposed regulations.

The revisions come at a time when jobs and pocketbook issues are
among voters’ chief concerns. President Bush has improved his
standing in polls on domestic issues, but questions linger about
the strength of the labor market and his plan to create jobs.

When the overtime plan was issued in March 2003, the
administration drew ferocious criticism from organized labor,
Democrats and some Republicans over concerns that millions of
workers would lose overtime pay.

It marked the first comprehensive revision of the 1938 Fair
Labor Standard Act regulations on white-collar rules in five
decades. The guidelines were drawn up at the urging of businesses
and employer groups.

“Employers have spent too many years trying to shoehorn
modern jobs into regulations that haven’t been updated since
Elvis was a teenager. We’ve finally got regulations that will
mean something in the 21st century workplace,” said Katherine
Lugar, the National Retail Federation’s vice president for
legislative and political affairs.

The regulations could save employers $250 million to $500
million annually in penalties or damages from those suits,
department officials said. One-time costs to put the rules in place
are estimated at about $70 million.

Department officials said the initial proposal would have cut
overtime for 644,000 workers, though the draft itself said 1.5
million to 2.7 million workers “will be more readily
identified as exempt.” Labor unions and Democrats said the
figure was closer to 8 million.

Retreating under political pressure this election year,
department officials said they revamped the plan so only about
107,000 highly paid white-collar workers would lose their overtime
eligibility. Officials reviewed more than 75,000 comments on the
draft.

Harkin and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said they would
continue to try to block portions of the regulation that could take
away overtime pay from workers. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) urged
them on.

Miller said he and other Democrats intend to spend “the
next couple of days determining whether or not the administration
is telling the truth. But I must tell you, it’s very hard to
believe they are.”

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said in a statement
that the changes “strike a severe blow to what little
economic security working families have left as a result of
Bush’s failed policies.”

The regulations will not apply to workers covered by labor
contracts, although union officials said they feared the changes
would strengthen the hand of companies in future bargaining.

“The fact that President Bush is slashing overtime pay for
even a single worker is outrageous,” AFL-CIO spokeswoman Lane
Windham said.

 

High court hears case on Sept. 11 detainees

The government can’t throw out prisoners’
constitutional rights to make their case in court just because the
country faces new threats in the war on terrorism, a lawyer for
foreign-born detainees argued yesterday in the Supreme
Court’s first case arising from the Sept. 11 attacks.

“It’s been plain for 215 years,” lawyer John
Gibbons argued. The government, he said, cannot create a
“lawless enclave” where no court, American or
otherwise, can check up on things.

“The United States is at war,” responded Theodore
Olson, the Bush administration’s top Supreme Court
lawyer.

Foreigners held at the Navy’s prison camp at Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba, want the Supreme Court to give them a legal right
“that is not authorized by Congress, does not arise from the
Constitution, has never been exercised by this court,” Olson
said.

The justices seemed deeply divided over the fate of more than
600 men from 44 countries who have been held for more than two
years at the Guantanamo camp, and about the underlying questions
concerning presidential powers in wartime.

“I’m still honestly most worried about the fact that there would
be a large category of unchecked and uncheckable actions dealing
with the detention of individuals that are being held in a place
where America has the power to do everything,” said Justice Stephen
Breyer.

 

BAGHDAD, Iraq

Iraqi leaders set to prosecute Saddam

Iraqi leaders have set up a tribunal of judges and prosecutors
to try ousted dictator Saddam Hussein and other members of his
Baathist regime, a spokesman announced yesterday.

Salem Chalabi, a U.S.-educated lawyer and nephew of the head of
the Iraqi National Congress, was named as general director of the
tribunal, and he has named a panel of seven judges and four
prosecutors, INC spokesman Entefadh Qanbar said. The tribunal, with
a 2004-2005 budget of $75 million, will also prosecute any members
of Saddam’s regime who are charged, Qanbar said.

A date has yet to be set for the trial of Saddam, who was
captured by U.S. troops in December and has since been held by U.S.
troops at an undisclosed location in or near Baghdad.

The court and prosecutors will determine charges against Saddam
and his former officials, Qanbar said.

, adding that more judges will be hired for the tribunal.

The judges and prosecutors will undergo training, including in
international law, war crimes and crimes against humanity, he
said.

A committee of Iraq’s Governing Council selected Chalabi
as head of the court under a law passed earlier by the council and
approved by top U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer. The INC, headed
by council member Ahmad Chalabi, has a seat on the committee.

Since Saddam’s regime fell, some 300,000 bodies were found
buried in mass graves, victims of his regime’s persecution of
political enemies, Kurds and Shiite Muslims, and other groups, U.S.
officials say. Saddam’s military also used chemical weapons
against troops and civilians during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s
and during a Kurdish uprising.

 

NEW DELHI

India elections start amid rebel violence

Undeterred by kidnappings, deadly rebel attacks and 113-degree
heat, Indians cast ballots yesterday in the first day of three-week
parliamentary elections that are expected to return the prime
minister’s governing coalition to power.

Rebels from the disputed province of Kashmir to India’s
isolated northeast have promised to sabotage the vote, a gigantic
undertaking in the world’s largest democracy. Violence across
the country killed 15 people and wounded 18.

Attacks are relatively routine during Indian elections. Voters
appeared ready to reward Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for
the booming economy and efforts that have made prospects for peace
with rival Pakistan their best in years.

“I came to vote because I wanted to recognize the good
work done by the government,” said Mohanlal Pashan, 70, a
retired state employee.

in Bangalore, India’s information technology hub.
“For me, the most important issue is economic
progress.”

The massive election will be staggered in five phases over three
weeks ending May 10 to accommodate the country’s 660 million
voters, with counting to begin three days later. Voter turnout
yesterday was 50 percent to 55 percent, according to the Election
Commission.

About 400,000 police and troops were deployed to protect
candidates, voters and poll workers, and air force helicopters
patrolled some of the more threatened districts.

 

JERUSALEM

Israelis kill five in response to attacks

Palestinians fired a barrage of homemade rockets and mortar
shells at Gaza Strip settlements and towns inside Israel, sparking
Israeli reprisals yesterday that killed five Palestinians and
wounded 33 others, Palestinian hospital officials said.

Over two days, 15 Qassam rockets hit Israeli targets, wounding
one Israeli and damaging at least five structures, the army said.
It was one of the most intense rocket barrages in more than three
years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

Yesterday, two rockets hit the settlement of Nissanit, one
landed in the Erez industrial zone in northern Gaza, and three in
the nearby Israeli communities of Sderot and Kibbutz Niram, the
army said.

Militants also fired two missiles at the settlement of Neve
Dekalim in the southern Gaza Strip, damaging a house, the army
said.

Later yesterday, Israeli tanks and a bulldozer raided an area
near Nissanit, where the army said many of the missiles had been
fired. Palestinians threw stones and climbed on the military
vehicles. After dark, Palestinian gunmen engaged troops in a
running battle.

Israeli troops shot and killed Motasem Nasser, 17, from the town
of Beit Hanoun, after he climbed on a military vehicle, witnesses
said. The army confirmed shooting a protester climbing on a
vehicle.

Four more Palestinians, Khaldoun Abu Jarad, 21, and three
unidentified people, were shot and killed, hospital officials said.
At least two of the dead were armed militants, the officials said.
Another 33 were wounded, mostly by bullets and shrapnel, they
said.

The army said it fired after hundreds of Palestinians threw
stones, explosive devices and firebombs. Four soldiers were
slightly injured, it said.

The rocket attacks began soon after Israel killed Rantisi and
two bodyguards in a missile strike on his car Saturday night, three
weeks after it killed the militant group’s spiritual leader,
Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Following Rantisi’s killing, Hamas vowed
to carry out “100 unique reprisals.”

Israel said the killings were part of its campaign to weaken
Hamas in advance of a proposed pullout from the Gaza Strip and some
West Bank settlements in 2005.

Speaking at the Israeli port of Ashdod on yesterday, Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon said the campaign would continue. “We
got rid of murderer No. 1 and murderer No. 2 and the list is not
short,” he said. A double suicide bombing in Ashdod on March
14 triggered the assault on Hamas leaders.

“We have to fight the massive fight against terror and
especially Hamas,” said Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who
toured army bases in Gaza yesterday.

— Compiled from Daily wire reports

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