The House of Representatives passed a Republican-sponsored bill on Wednesday evening purporting to offer greater flexibility to working families, but the bill has been vehemently opposed by women’s groups and labor unions who say the only “flexibility” offered by the bill is given to the employers and not the employees. The bill passed by a vote of 223-204 along party lines.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL), wrote in an email to supporters, “Despite efforts by union bosses and liberal activists to distort the facts, the House of Representatives just passed my bill to give working moms and dads more time flexibility in the workplace.” When Roby defended her bill on the House floor on Wednesday, her speech earned boos from her colleagues.
Liz Watson, senior advisor to the Education and Employment Team at the National Women’s Law Center, disagreed with Roby’s assessment of what the bill would do. “It takes cash out of the pocket of cash-strapped families under the guise of flexibility,” she said “It’s a bill that comes up right in time for Mother’s day — we say it’s the Mother’s Day equivalent of coal in your stocking.”
The Working Families Flexibility Act proposes to modify the Depression-era Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires hourly employees to receive time and a half for hours worked in excess of 40 a week, to allow employers to substitute “comp time” for overtime pay.
“And certainly to … earn time off [under this bill], you have to work beyond the hours in a work week. We think folks should be able to get time off without having to treat it as something extra. Let alone that there are many workers in low-wage jobs who never get to 40 hours a week because there’s a huge problem with involuntary part-time work today,” Watson continued.
The reason so many labor unions and women’s groups oppose the bill has to do with some of the original protections in the Fair Labor Standards Act, Watson explained. “It was really designed to protect those workers who were most likely to be exploited. It was designed to ensure that those workers with the least bargaining power were made to work a certain number of hours in a week and to create a disincentive to make people work beyond a 40-hour work week.”
“And of course that overtime pay has put many kids through college,” Watson added.
It’s unclear if the Republican-sponsored bill will gain any traction in the Senate. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), who chairs the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a statement to the Huffington Post that he has “concerns” about the bill.
“I think this is the wrong approach to the very critical problem of helping workers balance job responsibilities with family and caregiving,” he said.
The Obama administration has also promised to veto the bill.
“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,” the White House said in a statement.
Watch Rep. Roby defend her bill on the House floor on Wednesday.
Kay Steiger is the managing editor of Raw Story. Her contributions have appeared in The American Prospect, The Atlantic, Campus Progress, The Guardian, In These Times, Jezebel, Religion Dispatches, RH Reality Check, and others. You can follow her on Twitter @kaysteiger.
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