From what labor laws are newspapers exempt?

December 10, 2013

By Tonda F. Rush

Q We have a newspaper with less than 4,000 circulation. Isn’t there a rule that exempts us from some of the labor laws?

A Yes, newspapers generally are required to follow federal, state and local minimum wage and overtime laws. But there is a little known exemption from the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for newspapers with circulations of less than 4,000.

The exemption may have been useful in its day. But in today’s world, it is not of practical value to most newspapers. For example:

• Shoppers and total market coverage publications are eligible to use the exemption if their distribution falls below 4,000, but if the total distribution of a newspaper and shopper/TMC exceed 4,000 circulation, the exemption no longer applies;

• Newspaper groups whose titles are all less than 4,000 circulation may be eligible to rely on the exemption, but only if the staffs of each newspaper are devoted solely to their own titles. In other words, if a company has common bookkeeping, design, ad sales or other departments that serve more than one title, the Department of Labor will add the total circulation of those titles.

• Some states and localities have adopted their own minimum wage laws. Unless they also recognize the federal exemptions, the newspaper would have to comply with these state and local laws.

Some publishers have asked why Congress has not updated the law to set a higher circulation floor. The answer: changes in the FLSA are highly controversial. Even when the practical effects of a change make sense to most members of Congress, heavy opposition by organized labor is sufficient to block changes. The industry has argued, for example, that flex time should be permitted for reporters, so that when breaking news requires work beyond the standard 40 hours, they should be permitted to opt to cover the story and trade the time for extra holiday hours later in the year. But even this eminently sensible change was opposed by labor groups.

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