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Part One: Overwork in America > 4 Forced Overtime in the Land of the Free - Pg. 28

CHAPTER 4 Forced Overtime in the Land of the Free LONNIE GOLDEN Not long ago, I gave a speech about Take Back Your Time Day at Southern Utah University. The large student audience was quiet, but very sympathetic, as shown by written comments that were sent to me. However, one professor of economics challenged my support of European laws ensuring vacations and rea- sonable working hours. It was, he said, a matter of "free choice." American workers, by agreeing to contracts with their employers, freely choose the hours they work. Why did I want to force them to choose fewer hours? The "free choice" mantra is often raised when one talks about working hours, but as Lon- nie Golden (who has carefully researched the issue for the Economic Policy Insti- tute) makes clear, for more and more Americans, long overtime hours are hardly freely chosen. --JdG n December 12, 1999, grim news came from the state of Maine. Following a winter storm, Brent Churchill, a telephone lineman working almost continu- ously (with only five hours of sleep in the previous two-and-a-half days), reached for a 7,200 volt cable and was electrocuted. In response, Maine became the first state to limit the number of involuntary overtime hours employers could require from an employee, capping them at 80 hours within any two-week period. O 28