Recently, the GOP introduced legislation to change the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), which requires covered employees to receive overtime pay at a rate of time-and-a-half for every hour worked in excess of 40 hours per week. The Republican-pushed legislation would change the 75-year-old law to give workers who work more than 40 hours per week the option to take paid time off or comp time instead of receiving overtime pay. The proposal would allow workers to bank 160 hours, or four weeks, of comp time per year that could be used to take off for any reason. A provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act already provides this option for federal and state government workers, but it does not apply to the private sector.
The proposed law also prohibits coercion by the employer against the employee in any way. However, it is extremely hard to enforce this provision of the proposed law. If coercion is done verbally it is nearly impossible to prove. Since the majority of American workers are “at-will” employees, a worker can be fired for any reason at all, as long as the firing is not done for discriminatory reasons. An employer can simply fabricate a non-discriminatory reason to fire an employee if the employer was displeased with the way the employee chose to be compensated for overtime.
While Republicans promote the bill as being “pro worker,” opponents, including worker advocacy groups, unions and Democrats, vigorously oppose the proposed law. Opponents point out that the bill provides no guarantee that workers would be able to take the time off when they want to do so. Also, worker advocacy groups claim that the true purpose of the bill is to provide businesses a backdoor way to skimp on paying overtime. Judy Lichtman, senior adviser to the National Partnership for Women and Families, contends that the GOP measure would open the door for employers to pressure workers into taking compensatory time off instead of overtime pay.
The comp time program was created in the public sector in 1985 to save federal, state and local governments money, not to give workers greater flexibility, according to Mrs. Lichtman. Many workers in federal and state government are unionized or have civil service protections that give them more leverage in dealing with supervisors, she added. Those safeguards don’t always exist in the private sector, where only about 6.6 percent of employees are union members. Phil Jones, a 29-year-old emergency medical technician in Santa Clara, Calif., is wary of how the measure would be enforced. Jones, who regularly earns overtime pay, observed:
Any time there’s a law that will keep extra money in an employer’s bank account, they will try to push employees to make that choice. I know how we get taken advantage and I think this bill will just let employers take even more advantage of us.
Democrats in Congress are even more skeptical of the proposed legislation than is Mr. Jones. They say the bill is simply a repackaged GOP proposal from 1997. Rep. Donna Edwards, (D-Md.) made this observation:
They’ve dressed up an old idea in order to be family friendly. Let’s look at the history. I mean, the GOP has gone after Medicare. The GOP has tried to privatize social security. The GOP fights labor organizing and collective bargaining agreements that employees could benefit from. And now here they are cutting away at the 40-hour work week. The 40-hour work week has been with us for 75 years, and it’s there for a reason. It’s there to make sure employees aren’t abused by their employers.
The bill passed the Republican-controlled House by a vote of 223-204, largely along party lines. At present, it appears the bill is not getting any traction in the Senate, which is unlikely to even take this bill up. But if it did happen to pass, the White House has threatened to veto it.
Source: Associated Press
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