workingfamflexact

Photo via the Education and Workforce House Committee website

This week, the House passed the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013 (H.R. 1406), introduced by Representative Martha Roby (R-AL). The measure, passed by a vote of 223-204 along party lines, seeks to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (PL-75-718) to give private companies the ability to offer employees the choice of receiving regular paid time off instead of overtime pay for hours worked over the standard 40 hours per week. Currently, employees in blue-collar jobs get time and a half for overtime hours worked.

Rep. Roby is quoted in the Huffington Post as saying, “This is about helping working moms and dads, providing the ability to commit time at home.” She and other Congressional Republicans have led a PR campaign touting the bill as worker- and family-friendly, but workers’ rights advocates and Democrats in Congress hold a different view.

Progressive advocates believe that H.R. 1406 is a “smoke-and-mirrors” measure that provides workers with a pay cut in order to give them paid time off without the guarantee of when or how they can use it. The bill also allows accrual of up to 160 hours of paid time off in a year. At year’s end, workers would be paid in cash for their unused comp time, but employers could defer payment of this sum for up to 13 weeks. Many advocates call this an interest-free loan for the company.

In another twist, there is alarm that the bill could help eliminate of the concept of paid leave time altogether. Political Director for the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America Union Chris Townsend told the Huffington Post that he worries that employers could ask their employees to “earn” their paid time off instead of automatically offering them a package of two weeks of vacation time plus sick days.

This letter from the National Partnership for Women and Families, signed by 163 organizations from across the nation, denounces H.R. 1406 for its false promises. William Samuel, Director of Government Affairs at AFL-CIO (one of the signing organizations), says “The AFL-CIO is vehemently opposed to the so-called Working Families Flexibility Act, which would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow employer-controlled compensatory time off to be substituted for paid overtime,” as quoted in CQ. “We urge you to vote against this legislation.”

From service groups to union leaders, the progressive community opposes this bill, which would actually encourage employers to request overtime work from employees by making it a cheaper alternative to paid overtime. Neither is H.R. 1406 a good alternative for low-wage workers because it reduces their take-home pay, money which many low-income families rely on to make ends meet.

A Statement of Administration Policy released Monday announced that President Obama’s senior advisers would recommend he veto H.R. 1406 if it came to his desk. There is little chance that will ever come to pass, however. Passage of the bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate looks highly dubious, as Democrats are almost unanimously opposed to the measure and have struck down similar bills twice in the past. Still, Republicans may seek to bring the bill to a vote in the Senate.