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Bill limiting IT worker overtime pay could put CIOs in a tough spot

With technology boosters like these, who needs Scrooge? That’s what many IT folks must be thinking when they take a gander at the sponsors of a bill before the U.S. Senate to limit overtime pay for computer workers. You can read about the details of the bill in a piece I wrote for this week. Suffice it to say, the Computer Professionals Update Act basically states that employers are no longer legally obliged to pay overtime to anybody in the computer field making $26.73 an hour or more.

The bill, (which goes by the cutesy acronym CPU), was introduced in October by Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), whose district includes the Research Triangle hotbed of high-tech companies. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat whose Colorado district is home to clean energy, aerospace and medical device companies, is a co-sponsor, as are three Republicans: Sen. Michael Enzi of Wyoming, Sen. John Isakson of Georgia, and most recently, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, where high-tech is a mainstay of the state economy.

A litany of letters opposing the bill decry it as yet one more example of politicians putting corporate interests ahead of individual workers. Most are from people whose livelihoods will be directly affected.

But management, too, is shaking its head. CIOs I reached in my home state of Massachusetts who were willing to venture an opinion wondered about the intent of the bill — and possibly its unconsidered ramifications. John Lauderbach, CIO at Roche Bros. Supermarkets Inc., said he could see how curtailing overtime pay might even raise base pay, as a means of maintaining compensation levels for employed staff who earn a portion of their income from overtime.

Ed Bell, interim CIO for the commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Senate and House of Representatives, said he was disturbed by the “cookie cutter” approach the bill takes to compensation in an industry where the work and skills to do the jobs are anything but cut-and-dried.

“I’m under the belief that there are a lot of factors that need to be taken into account when defining whether a position is exempt or nonexempt: factors such as whether the work is in Wyoming or New York City; whether the position requires 35 or 70 hours per week; whether the position requires an MS from MIT (but [the applicant is] new to the market) or a high school diploma; or whether the position supports applications via an on-call schedule for endless hours per week or it’s just confined to the 9-5 time frame,” Bell said in an email.

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