President George W. Bush’s call for “flex time” and “comp time” is really about giving America’s corporations the flexibility to cheat their workers out of overtime pay after 40 hours a week.

President Bush has already presided over the biggest rewrite of overtime rules in the history of the Fair Labor Standards Act, stripping overtime protections from up to 6 million workers. Now he wants to weaken the rights of the remaining workers who will still be eligible for overtime by allowing the substitution of comp time for time-and-a-half overtime pay. In addition, Bush has said he wants to implement “flex time” which literally does away with the 40-hour workweek. Under “flex time” workers would no longer get paid overtime if they worked 50 hours in one week and 30 the next, for example.

President Bush’s proposal serves corporations’ needs — not those of working families — by allowing corporations to work their employees more than 40 hours in a week, without any cost to the employer. Though he dresses up this proposal in family-friendly “flexibility” garb, the reality is that employers will — once again — be the big winners under this proposal, while workers will end up working more for less.

The fact is that current law already allows employers to build any kind of flexible schedule with their employees that they desire — the only restriction is that employers must pay workers for any time worked after 40 hours a week.

The Bush proposal takes away corporation’s one big disincentive against having their employees work excessive hours — a time-and-a-half cash premium. Many workers will feel pressure from their employers to work more than 40 hours a week without overtime pay, and then take time off in the coming weeks, in order to accommodate the employer’s schedule — not their own.

The upshot of the Bush proposal is that working Americans will have less time with their families — not more. By making it cheaper for employers to demand overtime, “comp time” would lead to more mandatory overtime, longer hours, and more unpredictable work schedules for workers.

In addition, any banking of comp time would essentially be an interest-free loan from workers to employers as employers compensate workers with time off rather than cash — often weeks later. Comp time is “paid leave” only in the sense that it is “paid for” by the worker’s own lost overtime earnings, minus interest.

Enough is enough. The Bush administration has produced the worst jobs record in decades, and presided over the first back-to-back decline in Americans’ annual incomes since World War II. Corporate profits have grown but workers’ wages are flat. Health costs are exploding, and coverage is declining. And now President Bush wants to imperil workers even more, through a comp time scheme in which employers hold all the cards.

The truth is the President’s goal is nothing short of dismantling the wage and hour structure that has protected workers for decades. And it is corporations, not workers, who will benefit if the President gets his way.

John Sweeney is president of the AFL-CIO. This is the text of a statement released to the press Aug. 5.

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