Chicago Tribune Ex-Employee Seeks Overtime Pay Compensation

The journalism industry has changed rapidly in the last 5 years. Gone are the days of hard-news reporters hitting the streets, coming up with in-depth exposes and hard-hitting dramas. These career journalists have been replaced, in large part, with bloggers and web reporters intent on keeping the flow of information going 24 hours a day. With this different business model in place, news organizations have had to change staffing structures to try and save money. For some, that has meant cutting back on overtime pay, utilizing independent contractors and often paying by the story instead of by the hour.

One such newspaper is the Chicago Tribune, which has cut staff by about 50% since 2008. Now, former Tribune employee Carolyn Rusin is suing the newspaper over claims that they refused to pay her mandatory overtime for the hours she worked past 40 hours per week. Her attorney claims that she worked between 50 and 60 hours each week and was only paid the required time-and-a-half overtime pay five days in 2011.

Rusin, started as a freelancer and came on as a staffer in July 2010. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employees must be paid 150% salary for any time they work over 40 hours. But many professions have exemptions to the requirements and journalists are among those who may not always be entitled to overtime.

A journalist is exempt if they are considered to be a “creative professional” whose work involves “invention, imagination and talent.” Rusin’s work covering school board and meeting events involved physically going to meetings, interviewing sources and working in a traditional way. Therefore, her attorney contends, she is not among those exempted from overtime pay.

Beyond Rusin’s case, a class action suit is being pursued for all the reporters working for TribLocal, a localized web publication feeding content to 88 news websites and available to Tribune subscribers.

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