Los Angeles Business Journal

Driving the Overtime Debate

OP-ED: Carmaggedon’s traffic-free weekendpoints out the need to revisit state laws that hinder work schedules. By BRENDAN HUFFMAN Monday, August 8, 2011

Several lessons can be learned from Carmageddon 1, among them that when Angelenos are faced with the need to adjust to emergency situations, we do. We did it after the collapse of two major freeways following the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, and during the Rodney King riots and O.J. Simpson’s infamous drive through Westside neighborhoods in 1994.

The other lesson is that when commuters take the day off from work, our congestion is noticeably reduced.

I happened to be on the Ventura (101) Freeway west of the San Diego (405) Freeway on the two afternoons preceding the Sepulveda Pass shutdown. On Thursday afternoon, the freeway was more congested than usual with what I suspect were hordes of people running errands and traveling away from Los Angeles before the closure. However, on Friday afternoon, the 101 resembled what we regularly see on Sunday mornings – far fewer cars making for a pleasant ride.

Obviously, many commuters took Friday off from work to avoid the potential headaches, while many employers closed early to give their employees time to get home in case of a mad rush on local freeways.

All of this got me thinking again about California’s unique daily overtime laws and how the Legislature resists efforts to join rest of the country and make them friendly for commuters and families.

As most California business people know, the state is one of just two that require employees to be paid overtime after working eight-hour days instead of 40-hour workweeks. These overtime laws were enacted generations ago, long before California became a diverse economy, more recently evolving into a service sector economy. In those days, many of California’s jobs were physically draining, such as in agriculture or in manufacturing, and Sundays were often the only day off.

Today, California is different. Of course, there are many jobs that can suck the life out of you after just a few hours, but an increasing number of us now work in sectors where we can take a few minutes to zone out and confidentially update Facebook or play solitaire on the company’s computer system.

More and more of us are commuting from even farther distances to work as the price of housing and the allure of larger backyards has attracted us to communities such as Simi Valley and Valencia.

Every year, legislation is introduced to make it easier for employees to request alternative workweek schedules without triggering overtime and adding costs to their employers. And every year, these bills never pass out of the first legislative committee hearings. The unions hate these bills.

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