Does H.R. 1406, the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013, give workers flexibility in trading overtime for comp time? Or does it further erode protections previously given to America’s workers by robbing them of overtime pay as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938?
Of course the answer depends on whom you talk to.
Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) introduced the bill in April to allow workers in the private sector receive comp time instead of the standard time-and-a-half pay for overtime hours. A 1985 revision of the Fair Labor Standards Act allows government workers to do so.
“As a working mom, this bill is personal to me,” Roby said in a statement. “I understand the time demands on working families, including children’s activities, caring for aging parents or even a spouse’s military deployment. It only makes sense that our laws governing the workplace catch up to the realities of today’s families.”
In a guest editorial in Sunday’s Kansas City Star, Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) reiterated the family-friendliness of the bill, writing that it “will empower working moms and dads by giving them more control and freedom to be there for their families.” She represents the 2nd District (not mine) and is one of more than 160 GOP House members who’s now a co-sponsor of the legislation.
Yet the National Partnership for Women & Families opposes the measure. Judith L. Lichtman, the organization’s senior advisor, testified against the bill before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, saying, “it would leave workers with neither pay nor time” and “magnifies the power imbalance between employer and employee.”
She argued that H.R. 1406 “offers a false, flawed choice that would make times even tougher for workers and their families.”
Unions are against the bill. The AFL-CIO “vehemently” opposes the proposed legislation. It “offers workers only an empty promise” and fails to protect their rights, wrote William Samuels, director of the Government Affairs Department in an open letter to House members.
Ten years ago, Molly Ivins opposed similar proposed legislation. “The slick marketing and smoke on this one are a wonder to behold,” she wrote. “We’re being told that private sector workers will get the same “benefit” of comp time as public employees. Wow, keen, except the government has no profit motive for pushing comp time instead of overtime. Boy, does this stink.”
It’s a tough call. Will employers abuse the proposed changes in the law? I asked Jenkins about worker protections and she replied in an e-mail, “A worker can take their comp time whenever they choose as long as they provide reasonable notice in order to avoid disrupting business operations. Workers can also cash out on their comp time for any reason at any time and the employer will have 30 days to fulfill this request.”
I want to like this bill. I want to believe Republicans are family-friendly. But I know from experience that the workplace is not always worker-friendly.
Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.