Camcording, Wages, Overtime, Health Plans
108th Congress Considers Many Exhib-Related Issues
by Jonathan Yarowsky
NATO Washington Counsel
Now that the 108th Congress has moved
into its second session, it may be useful to do a quick “roundup” of
the high priority issues we are tracking for NATO.
Anti-Camcordering Legislation. With
a steep decline of record sales in the past several years
and increasing fears
that films will be next to suffer from online piracy, Congress
took time in 2003 to begin consideration of proposals to
protect intellectual property against such piracy. While
bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate
to address this growing problem, an important new element
has entered the debate: anti-camcordering provisions. Bipartisan
legislation is now pending in both chambers that would
make it a federal offense to camcord a motion picture in
a movie theatre. In the House, the ranking member of the
Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), has introduced
the “Author, Consumer, and Computer Owner Protection
and Security Act of 2003” (H.R. 2572), which includes
anti-camcording provisions. This legislation is expected
to be incorporated into a second bill pending in the House
In the meantime, Senate Judiciary Committee
members Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas)
the “Artists’ Rights and Theft Prevention Act” (S.
1932). This legislation would also make it a felony to
attempt to camcord a motion picture in a theatre. NATO
has voiced its general support for such legislation, but
we continue to work with the sponsors of the bills and
the MPAA to ensure that theatre owners’ interests
will be protected in any final legislation.
Although the House has approved association health
plan legislation, the Senate has yet to act on the
companion bill (S. 545) that is pending before the
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP)
Committee. One encouraging note is that the chairman
of the Senate HELP Committee, Judd Gregg (R-N.H.),
has pledged to make health insurance accessibility
a top priority issue in 2004.
Minimum Wage. Sen.
Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) continues to serve as the lead
supporter of federal
legislation to increase the minimum wage. While other labor
issues took center stage in the first session of the 108th
Congress, Kennedy and others will likely use the presidential
election year to press forward with attempts to increase
the minimum wage, which has remained at $5.15 an hour since
1997. With a minimum-wage hike blocked in Congress for
the past several years, proponents have turned with considerable
success to obtaining “living wage” requirements
in states and municipalities. Since 1997, the number of
states setting a higher minimum wage rose from six (plus
the District of Columbia) to 12. In addition, more than
100 local governments have living-wage provisions, most
affecting their own workers or employees of firms with
contracts with the cities, towns and counties. We expect
that the federal minimum wage issue will remain an important
policy issue in 2004.
Overtime Rules. In
March 2003, the Department of Labor proposed new regulations
governing overtime pay, the first
sweeping proposal to change these rules in more than 60
years. Specifically, the Labor Department proposal would
raise the weekly salary level below which eligible workers
will be automatically entitled to overtime; but at the
same time, it would create and expand new exemptions for
excluding certain categories of workers from overtime pay.
The rules remain in the proposal stage, with the Labor
Department currently reviewing the more than 75,000 sets
of comments that it has received.
Enactment of the proposed rules would not
affect NATO members because motion picture theatre employees
exempt from federal overtime requirements under the Fair
Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, as amended, 29 U.S.C. §201.
Specifically, the FLSA provides an exemption so that federal
overtime provisions do not apply to “any employee
employed by an establishment which is a motion picture
theatre,” 29 U.S.C. §213(a)(27). However, the
new labor rules are indicative of the larger political
debate brewing between labor organizations and the Bush
administration, a debate that is expected to heat up as
the 2004 presidential election draws closer. In fact, the
Labor Department’s proposed rules were the center
of controversy at the end of the last session, when efforts
were made to add such provisions to the fiscal year 2004
Labor Department-Health and Human Services Department appropriations
bill that would have prohibited the Department of Labor
from implementing any new overtime rules to current application.
When the administration vowed to veto any bill that would
undermine the proposed new rules, it was subsequently eliminated
from the final appropriations package.
Another bill affecting working conditions
of U.S. workers may also receive attention in the new session.
Time Flexibility Act (H.R. 1119), introduced in the first
session of the 108th Congress, would permit private sector
employees to offer their employees the option of receiving
overtime pay in the form of paid compensatory time in
lieu of cash wages. No action has yet been scheduled in
House on the measure, but we anticipate that it may be
brought up for consideration later this year.
Association Health Plans. Last
June, the House passed the Small Business Health Fairness
(H.R. 660). This
legislation would allow for the creation of association
health plans (AHPs) so that business owners can band together
across state lines through their membership in a bona fide
trade or professional association, such as NATO, to purchase
health coverage for their employees and families. In turn,
this group of business owners would be able to pool their
purchasing power and take advantage of volume discounts
and administrative efficiencies.
NATO continues to be a strong supporter
of this measure. Although the House has approved AHP
legislation, the Senate
has yet to act on the companion bill (S. 545) that is pending
before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
(HELP) Committee. One encouraging note is that the chairman
of the Senate HELP Committee, Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), has
pledged to make health insurance accessibility a top priority
issue in 2004. President Bush has voiced strong support
for AHPs as well. NATO, working as part of a broad coalition,
will continue to support this legislation and work toward
its swift passage into law.
At NATO’s last board and membership meeting in November,
the request was made for member letters in support of this
important legislation. Obviously, grassroots efforts can
make a critical difference. If you would wish to write
a letter to your senators, please contact the NATO offices
for a target list and important background information.