The bogus Working Families Flexibility Act: GOP takes aim at overtime pay

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The only thing that’s flexible about the Working Families Flexibility Act is the choice that private-sector businesses have to wield even more power over working people. Being sold as “family friendly,” the bill is part of the Republicans’ two-pronged larger goal to win back female voters and to erode the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. In fact, it is a thinly veiled effort to abolish overtime pay.

The bill doesn’t help working families; it harms them because it is a loss of wages when most people need overtime wages, or a second job, to pay the bills. And it’s not an actual choice. Supposedly, employers magnanimously give workers the option of trading overtime pay for extra time off — hourly compensatory time. But this is not a fair trade! Time-and-a-half wages are worth more than comp time. In short, the flexibility act provides a legal loophole that encourages employers to impose free overtime labor.

How it works. Under the bill, employers could legally demand overtime work and not pay for it at the time it’s performed, by promising comp time sometime in the future. That’s free labor to the company, which may or may not deliver. Workers who insist on overtime pay will be offered less of it. And that means intimidation to take on unpaid overtime, or lose their job. Employers could also just not hire workers who refuse to give up overtime wages. Should abuses occur, say the bill’s sponsors, the victims can sue. Yeah, right. For ordinary workers with no extra money and up against a corrupt, long-winded judicial system, suing is no solution.

Employees who do opt for comp time can only take those hours off at the employers’ convenience. For example, if you or your child is sick, you cannot use your comp time unless your employer approves it. Bosses let workers take this time when business is slower, forcing other workers to pick up the slack by speeding up. This costs the company absolutely nothing at all.

Free labor and cheap labor increase the number of hours the working class has to work to live. But the whole point of fighting for and winning the 40-hour week in the first place was to outlaw the deadly 10- to 16-hour work days, six days a week!

What it means. This direct attack on the 40-hour workweek and the right to time-and-a-half pay for overtime is the latest in a long effort by the GOP to systematically dismantle standards won by the labor movement in the last century. The current flexibility act, the eighth one attempted by the Republicans, passed in the GOP-controlled House on May 8, 2013, and will eventually end up in the Senate where it is not expected to pass.

Rightwing politicians astonishingly claim to know what is best for working families. But they got the House to pass a 20-week national abortion ban in June 2013 which certainly does not enhance women’s ability to support their families. And they keep sponsoring legislation that seeks a centuries-old return to times of masters and slaves and indentured servants in colonial America.

Nicole Troxell is a community activist and sociology instructor in Louisville, Ky. Send feedback to her at ndtrox01@yahoo.com.

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