Friday, May 20, 2016

UPDATED: Newspaper lobbying group says new overtime rule will reduce jobs, news coverage

The main lobbying group for community newspapers is objecting to the Obama administration's new rule making more employees eligible for overtime pay. The rule "will create disruption at small newspapers and likely lead to more job cutbacks" and less news coverage, said National Newspaper Association President Chip Hutcheson, publisher of The Times-Leader in Princeton, Ky.

The new rule, set to take effect Dec. 1, will make employees eligible for overtime if they earn less than $913 a week or $47,476 a year. The current threshold is about $23,660.

An NNA survey suggested that the rule would force a third of community to eliminate staff positions or reduce news coverage. Many papers "are already under financial pressure from weak local economies and they can't afford to pay additional overtime," NNA said in a statement. "For them, the unintended consequences include lost jobs and less news coverage."

UPDATE, May 20: However, those surveyed apparently did not know that the Labor Department had retained an exemption for weekly newspapers with a circulation under 4,000, while limiting it to "employees in rural areas," said Richard Karpel of American Pressworks, NNA's lobbying contractor. "The entire section is a bit perplexing so we will be seeking clarification about why it was included. . . . There is an indication that group-owned newspapers must total all circulations together," meaning that "even if one or two properties fall below the 4,000 threshold, their circulation total would be included in the cumulative total and not subject to the exemption."

Hutcheson had rejected calls by small businesses to introduce a more modified and gradually-rising threshold that sets overtime-eligible employees apart from professional staff. "NNA agreed that it was past time to adjust the salary levels," he said. "The Labor Department failed to do its job for a decade by creating more graduated adjustments that small businesses could live with. Then it decided to try to force the small business economy to leap the whole chasm in a single bound. Its ruling fails to recognize the realities of a slow-growing business climate. It also ignores the big differences between costs of living and earnings potential in small towns and major cities."

NNA said that "newsrooms have difficulty managing a 40-hour week, and that legal barriers for private-sector enterprises to offer meaningful flex time meant that news and sports staff could not take advantage of time off during slow seasons to compensate for extra hours spent on breaking news and sporting events. NNA requested consideration of a regional scale and joined the Newspaper Association of America in suggesting that thresholds should be set at a level of twice the annual earnings of a minimum wage earner. The minimum wage index would have given states and cities the ability to effectively set the overtime-eligibility standard."

NNA is now backing legislation (S. 2707 and H.R. 4773) that would block the rule and require the Labor Department to do more analysis of the impact on small businesses, nonprofits and public employers.

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