Lawmakers in the US House of Representatives passed legislation Wednesday that has been criticized for supposedly revoking private sector employees’ right to get paid for working overtime hours under the pretense of offering conditional time off.
The Working Families Flexibilities Act, which passed by a 223-203 vote along party lines, would allow employers to substitute “comp time” instead of paying hourly workers time and a half for every hour worked over 40 hours, the standard full-time commitment in the US.
Women’s advocates and union organizations have vehemently opposed the bill, saying it further erodes the protections afforded in the Fair Labor Standards Act instituted during the Great Depression.
“It takes cash out of the pocket of cash-strapped families under the guise of flexibility,” Liz Watson, a senior advisor at the National Women’s Law Center, told Raw Story. “It’s a bill that comes up right in time for Mother’s day – we say it’s the Mother’s day equivalent of coal in your stocking.”
Rep. Martha Roby, the Alabama Republican who introduced the bill in April, said the law is necessary to reflect hectic family schedules. Former US President Ronald Reagan signed a similar bill into law in 1985, giving state and local governments the option to renegotiate how workers were paid, although Congressional leaders of the time called the idea “seriously flawed,” as quoted by the Associated Press.
“It was really designed to protect those workers who were most likely to be exploited,” Watson said of the Fair Labor Standards Act. “It was designed to ensure that those workers with the least bargaining power were made to work a certain number of hours in a week and to create a disincentive to make people work beyond a 40-hour work week.”
Democrats have argued that the bill would allow businesses to essentially take out an interest-free loan on employees and pressure them into taking undesired time off, even if that choice is protected by law.
The controversy surrounding the bill could be moot, however, as the Democrat-controlled Senate has given no indication that the Working Families Flexibility Act would be put up for discussion. President Obama has similarly promised to veto the bill.
“This legislation undermines the existing right to hard-earned overtime pay, on which many working families rely to make ends meet, while misrepresenting itself as a workplaces flexibility measure that gives power to employees over their own schedules,” the White House said in a statement.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) told the Huffington Post he has “concerns” about the bill’s ability to protect workers “from being pressured into making choices that will actually hurt their families.” He added that the House of Representatives has yet to consider a bill he proposed in the Senate that would mandate paid sick leave.
“I think this is the wrong approach to the very critical problem of helping workers balance job responsibilities with family and caregiving,” Harkin said.