By DAVID GROVES
WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 9, 2013) — All of Washington’s Republican members of Congress — Reps. Doc Hastings, Jaime Herrera Beutler, Dave Reichert and Cathy McMorris Rodgers — voted Wednesday for legislation to allow employers of hourly workers to pay their employees less money. In fact, they have each signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. And they’ve done it not because it stands a chance of becoming law — it doesn’t — but because they think it will help their party “rebrand” itself as more family friendly.
H.R. 1406, named the “Working Families Flexibility Act,” would give employers the ability to avoid paying time-and-a-half overtime wages by offering compensatory time off, to be taken at the employer’s discretion. The bill’s proponents say workers get to choose between comp time and overtime pay, hence the “flexibility.” It passed the House on Wednesday 223-204 on a mostly party-line vote, with all six Democratic House members from Washington State voting “no.”
“This family-centered bill would allow employees to decide how to manage more of their time, whether that’s being with their child or an aging relative, or tending to personal responsibilities outside of work,” Herrera Beutler said.
But, as the AFL-CIO and other advocates for family-friendly workplace policies point out, H.R. 1406 does not allow workers to choose when they take comp time. That would be up to management. They say employers could simply refuse to schedule the comp time and pay the wages owed at the end of the year, amounting to employees giving a no-interest loan to their employer. But more importantly, opponents say workers who choose to keep their overtime pay could see their hours cut or be fired and would have no legal recourse.
“We are tired of being presented with false choices by Republicans and business,” said Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “What is the choice between hard-earned overtime pay and comp time at the discretion of the employer? This is really a Bosses’ Flexibility Act.”
This video explains H.R. 1406:
The National Partnership for Women & Families testified against the bill, saying, “it would leave workers with neither pay nor time” and “magnifies the power imbalance between employer and employee.”
The measure has no hope of passing the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate and the White House has already warned of a veto by President Barack Obama should it somehow reach his desk. The Obama administration wrote:
This legislation undermines the existing right to hard-earned overtime pay, on which many working families rely to make ends meet, while misrepresenting itself as a workplace flexibility measure that gives power to employees over their own schedules.
With far more pressing issues like immigration reform and the absence of a federal budget, why would House Republicans waste time passing legislation like H.R. 1406 that is doomed to fail?
As reported by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes (below), HR. 1406 is part of the Republican Party’s effort to rebrand itself after devastating losses in the last election. Voters largely saw Republicans as out of touch with middle-class families because of their advocacy for policies that cut workers’ wages and benefits. H.R. 1406 demonstrates that the rebranding effort is not about changing the party’s priorities and values, it’s just about changing their talking points. An identical version of H.R. 1406 was introduced in 2003 (it died in committee), and in fact, replacing overtime pay with comp time has been a goal shared by Republicans and corporate lobbying groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for decades.
“If Republicans are truly interested in family-friendly work policies and not just rebranding themselves as something they are not, then let’s see their support for paid family leave, universal paid safe and sick leave, and universal paid vacation leave for all workers,” said the WSLC’s Johnson. “If they did these things then the rebranding exercise would be interesting.”