The National Retail Federation has asked the Senate to reject an amendment that would block the Department of Labor from implementing a proposed update to 50-year-old Fair Labor Standards Act rules on overtime. NRF said it would count the amendment, expected to be offered by Senator Tom Harkin, R-Iowa, as a key vote when the Senate considers the department’s funding bill.

“We believe it would be clearly inappropriate for Congress to block this important and balanced process from moving forward,” NRF Senior Vice President for Government Relations Steve Pfister said in a letter to senators, noting that DOL’s public comment period on the proposed new rules ended June 30 and the department has not yet had time to review the comments. “We strongly urge you to vote against any amendment that would stop the Department of Labor from moving forward with the effort to bring our nation’s workplace laws into the 21st century.”

“Overtime regulations currently on the books are vague, confusing and severely outdated,” Pfister wrote. “Retailers face significant challenges in trying to classify today’s jobs into categories like ‘straw boss, gang leader or key punch operator that were created in a different era. This confusion has led to an explosion of litigation

The Senate was expected to vote on Thursday on the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2004. Harkin is expected to offer an amendment that would effectively bar the Labor Department from implementing the proposed regulations.

The Labor Department in March proposed a sweeping update of FLSA’s “white collar” rules, which determine which workers must be paid overtime when working more than 40 hours a week. The proposal would increase the FLSA salary test for the first time since 1975 – guaranteeing that all workers making up to $425 a week receive overtime rather than the current $155 – and would update other regulations for the first time since 1949.

NRF is concerned that the $425 salary test may be too high for some small businesses and retailers in low-wage areas, but otherwise supports the proposed regulations. Clarification of currently complicated job-duties tests – along with language clarifying the role of retail assistant managers – is expected to save retailers millions of dollars in litigation stemming from disputed overtime decisions.