Working Families Flexibility Act is a win-win

By Allen Greenberg

LifeHealthPro


Years ago, as a young reporter with few responsibilities in life outside of my job, I worked for a unionized global news organization.

The union, as far as I could tell, didn’t do much except collect its dues.

It didn’t help prevent the company from slashing our pay when times got tough, couldn’t stop the owners from selling the organization to people who had no idea how to turn its fortunes around, and couldn’t keep us out of bankruptcy court.

There was one provision, however, in the union contract that I appreciated: compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay for anything over 40 hours a week.

Some weeks, I needed and took the OT pay. But at other times, I took as much comp time as I could accrue. Single at the time and living in California, I spent a lot of that time surfing, camping, doing whatever.Years ago, as a young reporter with few responsibilities in life outside of my job, I worked for a unionized global news organization.

The union, as far as I could tell, didn’t do much except collect its dues.

It didn’t help prevent the company from slashing our pay when times got tough, couldn’t stop the owners from selling the organization to people who had no idea how to turn its fortunes around, and couldn’t keep us out of bankruptcy court.

There was one provision, however, in the union contract that I appreciated: compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay for anything over 40 hours a week.

Some weeks, I needed and took the OT pay. But at other times, I took as much comp time as I could accrue. Single at the time and living in California, I spent a lot of that time surfing, camping, doing whatever.

It was great having the flexibility.

Earlier this month, the House passed legislation amending the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 by giving all private-sector employees the same flexibility, a workplace feature government employees have enjoyed for the past three decades.

Unfortunately, Democrats who control the Senate are largely opposed to the bill and the White House has promised a veto, though it is unlikely the legislation will actually reach President Obama’s desk.

With the scandals over Benghazi, the IRS’s manhandling of tea-party groups and subpoenas of Associated Press phone records, this issue hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves in the past couple of weeks.

Led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the GOP introduced the bill as part of a campaign to broaden the Republican agenda beyond budget cuts.

Earlier this year, Cantor delivered a speech titled “Making Life Work,” the theme being that the government should pursue policies that would make a difference in people’s daily lives -- like making it easier for employers to offer flextime to their workers.
“This is about helping working moms and dads, providing the ability to commit time at home," Rep. Martha Rob, R-Ala., who sponsored the bill, said. “This is something that the public sector has engaged in for many, many years. If it’s good enough for the federal government, it ought to be good enough for the private sector.”

Under her bill, workers who put in more than 40 hours could receive an hour-and-a-half in time off in return for every hour of OT worked.

The opposition -- Democrats and union leaders mostly -- objected on the grounds that employers would abuse this option.

That’s obviously very easy to imagine. There’s no shortage of employers who do, in fact, try to exploit their workers whenever they can.

But the opposition to this legislation ignores the greater truth that most employers are, in fact, good people who care about their workers and understand that many of them appreciate the flexibility to take time off to care for children or elderly parents. Or even to surf.

The GOP put out a fact sheet addressing some of the “myths” surrounding the legislation. The topmost misconceptions: That the Working Families Flexibility Act (H.R. 1406) will result in employees working longer hours for less pay and will allow employers to control when workers use their comp time.

Here’s the response:
  • Receiving paid time off or “comp time” for working overtime hours under the legislation is completely voluntary. An employee who prefers to receive cash payment for overtime hours worked is always free to do so.

  • H.R. 1406 requires the employer and employee to complete a written comp time agreement. An employee can withdraw from this agreement at any time and receive his or her accrued comp time in cash wages.

  • Comp time is accrued at the same rate as overtime cash wages. Employees who work more than 40 hours a week will accrue paid time off at a rate of one and one-half hours for each overtime hour worked.

  • Workers can cash out their accrued comp time whenever they choose and receive the equivalent in cash wages. Employers are required to provide cash wages within 30 days of receiving an employee request.

  • The Working Families Flexibility Act allows workers to use their comp time whenever they choose as long as they provide reasonable notice and the leave will not “unduly disrupt” business operations.

  • The “unduly disrupt” provision included in H.R. 1406 is the same standard used today for public employees receiving comp time, which has worked well for nearly 30 years.
The legislation, in other words, is filled with worker safeguards.

Times have changed, so an update of the Fair Labor Standards Act is long overdue. H.R. 1406 might not see a vote in the Senate this year but let’s hope it gets the consideration it deserves at some point soon.

Originally published on BenefitsPro.com