WASHINGTON (PAI)-Charging ahead with their ideological agenda, the right wing Republicans who run the House Education and the Workforce Committee voted on April 17 for one of their pet causes, replacing overtime with comp time.
Among groups opposing the measure, HR1406, was the National Partnership for Women and Families, whose senior advisor, Judith Lichtman, told lawmakers the week before that the tradeoff - and particularly GOP claims that it would be a joint employer-worker decision - is a forced choice based on "false premises."
Corporate chieftains and their political puppets have pushed replacing overtime with comp time for at least the past decade, but it has died in Democratic-run congres-sional committees. The GOP-run workforce panel is intent on pushing it ahead again.
Passing HR1406 would cost workers money they would earn in overtime pay, cut the number of available jobs as employers rely on comp time rather than hiring more workers and would leave the workers without the overtime or the comp time, Lichtman said. That's because the worker could request the comp time, but granting it would be up to the boss. And in the meantime, the boss could deny the overtime pay, too.
The practical effect, she says, is that the worker would take a pay cut and would wind up subsidizing the employer - because the worker wouldn't get the comp time when he or she needs it, if at all, and would have no legal recourse against the boss.
Non-union workers would be particularly hurt, because they have no bargaining power in the workplace and live in fear of losing their jobs if they even ask for comp time off, or protest getting comp time rather than the overtime pay they need, Lichtman said.
"This legislation is based on smoke and mirrors," she told lawmakers. "This 'flexibility' bill offers forced choices and false promises.
"It pretends to offer the time off people need when they need it, but in fact, it is a pay cut for workers without any attendant guarantee of time. It also sets up a dangerous, false dichotomy between time and money when, in fact, working families need both."
Rather than putting business in the drivers' seat about giving or denying both comp time and overtime, Congress should enact true family friendly legislation, Lichtman said, starting with raising the minimum wage to $10.10 or more an hour. That would help at least 30 million workers, the majority of them working women, she said.
Then it should also approve the Paycheck Fairness Act, to put some teeth in federal equal pay laws, and the Healthy Families Act, which establishes paid sick leave nationwide, she added. Both Democratic-authored bills will not even get a hearing from the GOP-run panel.
Lichtman called the GOP/business-pushed HR1406 "deeply flawed." Workers would have "less control over both their time and their paychecks. It does not guarantee the time off that workers need, regardless of their opportunity or ability to work overtime hours.
"And for the growing segment of workers whose challenges stem from the opposite problem - working too few hours involuntarily with too little predictability - this proposal would do absolutely nothing to assure access to either the pay or the paid time off they need to meet their family responsibilities."
Comp time would be useful as part of "a suite" of family friendly policies, but only if the comp time-vs-overtime decision was up to the worker "freely and fairly," not the employer, and if comp time is available and granted on demand, Lichtman said.
"But HR1406's brand of comp time is designed to benefit employers only. It does not offer any of the protections workers need. It is tone-deaf to what workers are experiencing right now." The GOP measure is "a wolf in sheep's clothing," she said.
The right wing Republicans trotted out three Southern witnesses, including a woman accountant from rural Georgia and a female human resources director from Huntsville, Ala., to campaign for replacing overtime with comp time.
The accountant said she used earned comp time to go on overseas missionary travels for her church to Nicaragua to "pray with" people there "and tell them how Jesus Christ has changed my life." The Society for Human Resource Management rep from Huntsville said comp time would let companies and workers "balance work-life needs."
"In the current climate, in which Americans are deeply concerned about losing jobs or being unable to work enough hours to make ends meet, employees will be coerced into accepting comp time instead of pay, for fear of losing their livelihoods altogether," Lichtman retorted. "And the comp time offered here may not even be available when workers need it, rendering this proposal a true wolf in sheep's clothing."
"Working families deserve better than a bill that forces them to choose between overtime pay and the family-friendly policies they desire," said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., top Democrat on the subcommittee that hosted the comp time hearing on April 12. "We should be looking at ways to give workers more power over their lives, not hand over hard-fought rights won by workers to their employers."
Photo: PW/Marilyn Bechtel