Lebanon Reporter

May 10, 2013

Flexibility act would work over families

By Rod Rose
Assistant Managing Editor

Lebanon — Another bit of legislation ostentatiously framed as support for families has slithered out of the House of Representatives by a pretty-much party-line vote, with lamentable support from Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Much of Boone County.

Rokita announced in a press release that he had “voted to pass the Working Families Flexibility Act,” and was a cosponsor of the legislation.

The bill would “allow private sector employers to offer workers the option of earning paid time off in lieu of cash wages for overtime hours worked,” Rokita wrote.

“Many working Americans are struggling to meet the demands of both job and family, particularly in today’s difficult economy,” Rokita said. “This common-sense bill removes existing red tape and gives employees increased flexibility and freedom to fulfill their responsibilities.”

Why, Rokita’s a friend of the working man and woman, you’d think.

“By offering more moms and dads the opportunity to accrue ‘comp time’ if they choose, we are giving working families a vitally important tool to manage their time as they best see fit,” Rokita said.

Now, it sounds as if workers have an option of taking extra time or of receiving extra cash.

Well, maybe.

Rokita said “no employee can be forced to take comp time instead of receiving overtime pay.” The bill has “safeguards” that would “ensure the choice and use of comp time are truly voluntary,” he said.

When I hear “safeguards,” it’s usually best to determine whose safe — and whose guards — are being discussed.

According to MapLight, a nonpartisan research group tracking money in politics, the bill’s language gives the employer a lot of — flexibility, shall we say?

“(T)ime off would be permitted to an employee who has accrued time and put in a written request if the employer determines that ‘the use of the compensatory time does not unduly disrupt the operations of the employer,’” MapLight said in a press release.

Rather than giving “flexibility” to working moms and dads, the bill gives bosses the last word in approving or denying comp time, MapLight found.

“This isn’t women-friendly, this isn’t mom-friendly, this isn’t family-friendly,” Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., told the Associated Press. “This is friendly to people who want to get rid of overtime and bring down the 40-hour week that protects families so they’re not working all the time.”

“This legislation simply removes an outdated federal policy that denies private sector workers the flexibility they need to better balance family and work,” Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said.

How, exactly would that work? The AP said, “The plan would change the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which requires covered employees to receive time-and-a-half pay for every hour over 40 within a work week. Workers could save up to 160 hours of comp time a year.”

Presently, workers can swap comp time for overtime pay only within a single pay period, the AP said. The time can’t be saved up for use later in the year. The WFFA would allow workers to bank their comp time to be used later — but it’s the “when” that makes the WFFA a bad idea.

How much potential is there for abuse in the WFFA?

Oh, lots.

Let’s say the law passes, and you ask your boss for some comp time in the first week of January. “Not this week,” he says, so your request goes into your comp time bank. Next week, you ask again for some unpaid time off in lieu of being paid 1.5 times your wage — assuming you qualify for overtime.” Not this week,” he says. Repeat the sequence until you’ve acquired the maximum 160 hours — that’s four weeks — of comp time.

So, now it’s the first week of December, you’ve accumulated a full month of (unpaid) time off, and you ask the boss, “how about letting me take that time?” And again, he says no, because letting you go would “unduly disrupt the operations” of wherever you work.

On the Daily Kos, Leo W. Gerard said, “With overtime pay, the worker gets the money in the next paycheck and spends or saves it as he pleases, earning interest if he banks it. Under the GOP forced flexibility proposal, the boss can deny time off requests for as long as a year, after which the company must pay the wage earner for the extra time worked. By then, the corporation has kept the workers’ earnings, and the interest on them, for 12 months.”

Interest rates aren’t that good, these days, but a buck is a buck, after all.

Why would Rokita vote for such a bill, much less cosponsor one?

Call me a cynic, but the bill is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Retail Federation and other business groups.

Rokita has received $66,500 in contributions from organizations that support the bill, MapLight said, and $4,500 from groups that do not.

When trying to determine why a politician does anything, following the money usually produces an answer.