The House of Representatives will vote on the Working Families Flexibility Act this week.
The GOP-sponsored bill aims to provide workers with the choice between receiving overtime pay and using accrued overtime hours for paid time off. The act would amend the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act to require employers to offer employees up to 160 hours of comp time in place of overtime pay.
The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala), said the bill is all about providing employers and employees with the ability to choose between the two. She also noted that this option already exists for public sector employees.
But many Democrats and worker advocacy groups oppose the bill, saying loopholes in the legislation would allow employers to put pressure on employees to take paid time off instead of overtime pay, which by law is given at a time-and-a-half pay rate.
At a time when employee wage rates are at their lowest level since the 1970s (after accounting for inflation), many employees can’t afford to take home even less money than they already do.
United Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard recently spoke about the bill.
“Under the GOP-forced flexibility proposal, the boss can deny time-off requests for as long as a year, after which the company must pay the wage-earner for the extra time worked," he said. "By then, the corporation has kept the worker's earnings, and the interest on them, for 12 months.
"...In fact," he continued, "the GOP scheme enables corporations to profit on overtime at the expense of workers. It would reduce the financial disincentive of requiring work beyond 40 hours, which means it would also reduce the financial incentive to hire more workers."
Although the option is already offered to public sector employees, most private sector employees, especially those with lower paying jobs, lack the union and legislative protection that public sector employees receive. Most lower-wage employees simply cannot afford to refuse what’s asked of them by their employers out of fear that they will be fired and replaced by someone who will accept the employer’s request. Because of this, the Flexibility Act will effectively be about employer leverage, not employee flexibility.
Judith Lichtman of the National Partnership for Women and Families was quick to point out that the paid time off option for public sector employees was created in 1985 to save federal and state governments money, not to provide employees with more flexibility. At a time when unemployment is high and wages are low, any legislature that would give companies the option to pay employees even less money should be viewed with a skeptical eye.
Although House Republicans say they’re confident they can gather enough votes to pass the bill, staunch opposition from Democrats and Independents all but guarantee the measure won’t be passed on to the Senate.