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Hart Beat

Quit attacking my work ethic

In the history of my employment, I have never been called to my supervisor's office for working too many hours.

Admittedly, I've been called to his office for a variety of legitimate reasons, but working too hard? Never. Until recently, that is.

Since the federal 40-hour law went into effect a month ago, I've been reamed twice for working a few minutes past the magic 40-hour mark. Apparently, my version of 40 hours and the paymaster's versions are in separate solar systems.

You see, all my career, I've worked whatever hours the job required. I've never stopped to think about time off. Heck, one year I even forgot to take my vacation. I've always worked weekends, if necessary, evenings as dictated by public meetings, and have even gotten up in the middle of the night if a huge fire erupted.

And, for most of my 30-year career, the federal government has left me alone to do my job. But recently the feds have decided to crack down on those slave driver employers who supposedly take advantage of poor saps like me. The feds, who think they are helping ensure we, poor workers, get paid what we are worth, are cramping my work style.

I think it is interesting that they have imposed their nasty 40-hour rule just prior to the 2004 Presidential election coverage. I think it's a scheme to keep us from covering hundreds of hysterically funny campaign bloopers I keep seeing in the presidential ads. But that is another story. My beef is with being restricted to such a short work week.

In fact, I don't understand how my employers can expect me to automatically turn off the creative juices at "ding-ding" 40-hours all at once. I had to condition myself very carefully to be able to knock down 50, 60 hours a week for most of my journalistic career. Stopping cold turkey has been painful.

Keeping track of my hour interview here or 30 minutes snapping a photo at a school over there, is giving me a colossal migraine. I'm learning that it is true - it is hard to teach an old reporter new tricks.

The first week or so of recording my hours wasn't too bad. I dutifully wrote down my hours, minutes of late arrivals at work or early departures, all in an effort to shave those dreaded extra minutes off the 40 and to keep my immediate supervisor from going postal. Then I sort of relaxed and merrily wrote down 8, 8, 9, 8, 11, and promptly got the call to the office.

"You can't be working over 40 hours, how many times have I got to tell you? We don't have money to pay you for overtime. We can't have you working more than 40 hours."

I tried to tell him to "chill," that I was good and everything was fine and then he accused me of breaking the law.

I never knew that working too hard was one of the deadly sins, like drinking too much, carousing, gambling or calling in sick every other day. Imagine, I broke the "working too long" law. How funny is that?

Like I said, I was chastised twice by my wonderful, caring bosses, whom I know really want me to take it easy. I know they are frustrated, cuz I simply don't get it. But, I'm not asking for overtime. I'm just working.

I realize that there is probably a good reason for the federal government to butt into my business. I don't think they understand that their rules don't apply to me. My theory on rules is that they are good for everyone but me. I dance to my own drummer. I think better when I don't have people breathing down my neck, pushing me to hurry up, nagging me to stop what I'm doing right now and "clock out."

In defense of my inability to get the 40-hour point the first time, second or possibly third time, I say give me one more chance. Even drug addicts and cigarette smokers need at least 10 tries before they successfully break those nasty habits.

Maybe I can start my own 112 step plan for over 40-hour addicts. Interested?

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