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Republicans Hide Attack on Overtime Pay Behind ‘Flexibility’ Mask

Photo by silentDAN/Flickr Creative Commons

Republicans in Congress have renewed their decades-old attack on the 40-hour workweek. Once again, they are pushing so-called “comp time” legislation that would allow employers to stop giving workers any extra pay for overtime work.

Ten years ago, the Republican leadership in Congress and the Bush administration tried to pass the exact same legislation, but working families said, “Longer hours for less pay? No way.” 

We won that fight in 2003. The “comp time” bill died in the House of Representatives, even though Republicans had a majority.

Now we have to win this fight all over again, because Republican leaders are back to their same old tricks. It seems like every few years working people have to teach them the same lesson: “Do not mess with the 40-hour workweek. Do not cut our overtime!”

Call Congress today and tell your representative to oppose H.R. 1406. To find your senators’ and representative’s phone numbers, call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your senators’ and/or representative’s office.

Just like 2003, Republican leaders are dressing up their attack on overtime pay with language about “flexibility” and being “family friendly.” A decade later Republicans are putting the same lipstick on the same pig.

Republicans even have the nerve to call this attack on overtime the “Working Families Flexibility Act” (H.R. 1406). The only flexibility H.R. 1406 would give is the flexibility for employers to not pay overtime.

Here’s why. Right now, your employer has to pay you “time and a half” when you work overtime. Under “comp time” legislation, your employer can pay you nothing up front when you work overtime, then have you take time off sometime in the future. Sure, it’s paid leave, but you would have gotten paid anyway, so you don’t get any extra pay. That means your boss pays less for your overtime work, which means your boss has an economic incentive to demand longer hours.

The Fair Labor Standards Act established the 40-hour week to allow workers to spend more time away from the job—supposedly the goal of H.R. 1406—and to encourage employers to hire enough employees to handle the work. The time-and-a-half pay for work after 40 hours is the incentive for employers to maintain the 40-hour workweek.

The bill’s backers say their goal is to give workers more flexibility for time off, but it very likely could do the opposite by making mandatory overtime work less expensive for employers, in other words keeping workers on the job longer.   

Making mandatory overtime cheaper for employers would result in more unpredictable worker schedules and for workers with children, higher day care costs. 

While “comp time” gives employers the flexibility to not pay overtime, it does not give any extra flexibility to employees. Current law allows employers to arrange many kinds of different “flexible” work schedules that could benefit both the workers and employer. But most choose not to avail themselves of this flexibility.

In fact, any time off that workers receive under a “comp time” arrangement could already be given, as paid or unpaid leave, under current law. 

The comp time bill is “based on smoke and mirrors,” Judith Lichtman, senior adviser for National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) told a House Education and Workforce Committee hearing last week.

It pretends to offer the time off people need, when they need it, but in fact, it is a pay cut for workers without any attendant guarantee of time….It is, at best, an empty promise. In truth, it would cause considerably more harm than good…H.R. 1406 would leave workers with neither pay nor time.

Congressional sponsors and the business groups that back the bill portray it as a way for workers to trade their time-and-a-half overtime pay for more than 40 hours a week on the job, for guaranteed unpaid “comp time” to take for family business, ill children, spouses or other or even a kid’s soccer game or school play. But that’s not how it works.

First off, under the bill’s provisions it is effectively up to the boss when a worker would be allowed to use the comp time. The Republican bill gives workers little recourse against employers who continually reject their comp time requests. 

The bill also supposedly requires an agreement between the worker and the boss to swap overtime for comp time (quite a cost savings for the employer). But for workers who don’t want to give up their overtime pay—which can be an important part of their earnings—the legislation, said Lichtman, “does not give an employee wishing to remain in her or his employer’s good graces any true ‘choice.’”  

If workers refuse to accept comp time in lieu of overtime pay, they put themselves in danger of a pay cut because employers could easily assign overtime work to those who have agreed or been pressured to accept comp time.   

The Education and Workforce Committee will vote on the bill later this week and it is scheduled for a full House vote next week.

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