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Lancaster restaurateur: New OT rules will make it worse

With new overtime regulations pending, state leaders listened Tuesday to learn more about upcoming overtime changes

An audience observes a hearing of two state Senate committees called to get comments on changes to federal overtime rules. - (Photo / David O'Connor)

Starting later this year, restaurant owners and leaders will have to work more and cut hours and compensation for middle managers, a Lancaster restaurateur told state leaders Tuesday.

Speaking at a hearing of two state Senate committees called to get comments on changes to federal overtime rules, Robert Commero, general manager of the Pressroom Restaurant & Bar, said the pending changes would make things worse, not better, for his industry.

He predicted it will “create an industry work environment that is the exact opposite” of the positive one that the U.S. Department of Labor intends in the new rules, which go into effect Dec. 1, Commero said.

The changes, among other steps, double the salary level, from $23,660 to $47,476, under which workers working more than 40 hours a week must be paid overtime.

But it doesn’t take into account how things work in the restaurant industry, which employs 557,000 people in 24,930 restaurants in Pennsylvania, Commero said.

The new regulations may be designed to “put more money into the pockets of middle-class workers,” Commero said, but they “will have the exact opposite results in our industry … our workforce does not work 9 to 5.”

People can’t just stop when workers reach their limits on hours for the week, he added.

“I have one overriding guideline that dictates my process to become compliant” with the new regulations, he continued, “my budget. There is not some pot of money that I can just go to for increased wages.”

He will have to look at each position and “determine what measures I must take to ensure that the workload for this position still gets done with no adverse effect on our guest experience,” Commero added.

He joined officials from nonprofit, higher education and other industries in predicting a negative impact from the upcoming overtime changes. They spoke during a nearly three-hour hearing Tuesday at the North Office Building. The session was a joint hearing of two Senate committees, Labor & Industry and Appropriations.

Hearing a fact-finding effort

Some expect less work to get done as managers try to juggle the salary/overtime puzzle when the rules take effect.

There are no specific pieces of legislation before the two committees related to the new overtime laws, and the hearing was “designed to be fact-finding today,” said state Sen. Lisa Baker, a Luzerne County Republican who chairs the Labor & Industry Committee.

A university official who testified Tuesday warned that the Keystone State “risks becoming a state known for the low quality of student services and programs at our colleges and universities” unless there are changes to what she called “the more stringent Pennsylvania rules” regarding employment and overtime.

No doubt, the new federal regulations “will create significant challenges for our institution and the other 150-plus higher-education institutions across Pennsylvania,” said Meredith Bollheimer, general counsel and vice president for legal affairs at Erie’s Mercyhurst University.

“Employers must follow both state and federal rules related to overtime pay, (but) there are significant points of divergence between the federal and Pennsylvania rules,” Bollheimer said.

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