Orwellian. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Badly misnamed. Smoke and mirrors. Deceptive.
Invectives piled up once again from critics blasting the latest version of a Working Families Flexibility Act. A piece of legislation that has reappeared regularly in Congress and the state houses got new life Tuesday through 229 Republican aye votes in the U.S. House. No Democrats supported it.
The concept promises hourly employees the option to choose compensatory time off instead of overtime pay. But opponents say it would stomp on overtime pay rights granted under the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act — and won’t benefit workers in reality.
It’s an argument that has re-emerged regularly for years. Proponents tout flexibility and choice. But organizations that give voice to workers say the legislation gives the flexibility and choice to employers, not employees.
The current bill, if it should become law, would affect only workers who are eligible for overtime pay, an increasingly smaller segment of the U.S. workforce. Basically, it would give such employees the right to ask for compensatory time off instead of time-and-a-half overtime pay.
The real-world glitch is that the power to grant the comp time rests with the employer. Here’s the scenario:
Employee: I’m working 48 hours this week. I need to take my comp day off next week.
Boss: Sorry, can’t do it next week. We have a big production deadline, and Joe is on vacation.
Instead of a fatter check in the next pay period, the worker gets a promise to be compensated when it’s convenient for the employer.
There are, of course, advocates. Kansas Republican Lynn Jenkins spoke in favor of House Resolution 1180 before passage on the House floor:
“For hourly workers, having the voluntary option to take either money or more time with your family opens up a world of possibilities for folks to spend more time with their kids, run errands or make appointments,” Jenkins said.
Opponents say that “world of possibilities” is way too large.
“Employers would be able to veto any requests to take time off that will ‘unduly disrupt’ the employer’s business, even for something as urgent as caring for a sick child,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO of MomsRising.org.
The bill essentially makes it possible for employers to withhold overtime compensation for months when comp time is accrued but permission to take it drags on.
The bill’s opponents say upending the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime pay rule — requiring time-and-a-half pay for eligible workers’ hours over a 40-hour workweek — will make longer work hours cheaper for employers, reduce take-home pay and limit the workers’ “flexibility” it purports to grant.
A similar bill is filed in the U.S. Senate, Senate Bill 801, but hasn’t emerged from committee. So far, the Senate bill is given low odds for passage.