Members of the House leave Capitol Hill to begin a two-week recess in Washington, March 21, 2013. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)Republicans are trying to pass an “alternative” to overtime pay. This is really about taking away the eight-hour workday and 40-hour workweek. Will weekends be next? What about an “alternative” to paying workers at all?
House Republicans are pushing a bill that takes away extra pay for overtime, substituting “comp” time instead. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 is the law that brought us the eight-hour workday and the 40-hour workweek. This law does not prohibit employers from requiring workers to work over 40 hours. Instead, it gives employers an incentive to instead pay extra or hire more people, and gives employees a premium if they do have to work longer. (Note that this is also the law that brought us a minimum wage and outlawed child labor.)
There is proof that overtime pay works: workers like domestic workers and agricultural workers – jobs not covered by the FLSA – are twice as likely to have to work more than 40 hours in a week. And even with this law, Americans already work more hours than in almost any other industrialized country.
The Bill – No Guarantees
The House will be voting on H.R. 1406, The Working Families Flexibility Act, which lets employers offer “comp time” instead of overtime pay. The problem is that employers will pressure workers to take comp time instead of overtime, which reduces paychecks and gets rid of the incentive to hire more people. Later, the employees will be pressured to not take that comp time, or will have to be “on call,” etcetera.
It is important to note that the law does not guarantee workers the right to actually use the comp time they get instead of extra pay. Employers can put it off forever. You can’t use this time when you want to, only when the employer decides it is okay.
This really is a flat-out pay take-away, can’t use it another day.
Eileen Appelbaum of the Center for Economic and Policy Research drives this point home in her article “Working Families Flexibility Act: Not Good for Working Parents and Bad for the Economy,” on The Huffington Post:
Employees cannot just take comp time when they need it. Rather, the bill lets an employer who receives a request for comp time decide when the employee gets to take it. The employer can even refuse the request and defer it to a later time if, in the employer’s view, letting the employee take comp time will “unduly disrupt the operations of the employer.”
Overtime Helps the Economy
We have a jobs emergency and Republicans are trying to get rid of one of the laws that causes employers to hire more people. Go figure. When employers require workers to work more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week, they have to pay more than the regular wage for that extra time. This is a strong incentive to hire more people instead.
And when they don’t hire more people, they pay a premium, which means regular people have more money to spend. Either way, it helps the economy. And of course, it really, really helps those workers.
Last year, USA Today took a look at overtime pay and found that productivity was rising, but as a result of squeezing workers for more hours. But employers were calling these workers “managers” to get out of paying overtime – and to get out of hiring more people.
The National Partnership for Women and Families has a fact sheet titled, “An Empty Promise: The Working Families Flexibility Act Would Give Workers Less Flexibility and Less Pay.” It begins:
Despite its name, the Cantor/Roby Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013 sets up a dangerous false choice between time and money, when working families really need both. The bill does not promote family friendly or flexible workplaces. Instead, it would erode hourly workers’ ability to make ends meet, plan for family time and have predictability, stability and true flexibility at work.
People Died to Get Overtime Pay
Leo Gerard points out that people died to get a 40-hour week, writing at Campaign for America’s Future in “GOP Forcibly Making Working Families Flexible“: “Trade unionists and labor rights activists died to achieve the goal of eight-hour days and 40-hour weeks. They were shot and beaten in the streets during demonstrations organized by the eight-hour movement. Their slogan was: “Eight hours for work; eight hours for rest; eight hours for what we will.”
President Obama issued a statement saying he will veto this bill if it is sent to him. The statement explains that this bill “undermines the existing right to hard-earned overtime pay, on which many working families rely to make ends meet, while misrepresenting itself as a workplace flexibility measure that gives power to employees over their own schedules.”
If Congress wants to help working people and their families, they should instead raise the minimum wage, fund enforcement of laws against wage theft and other employer pay-stealing scams, and make it easier to join unions. That would show that they mean it. Taking away the 40-hour work week and giving it a nice-sounding name like Working Family Flexibility just does not cut it.