Comp Time Bill Pulled From the House, But Still Poses a Threat
June 9th, 2003 | Paula Brantner
Yesterday (6/5), the House of Representatives pulled from consideration the Family Time Flexibility Act (HR 1119). The move signaled that Republicans in the House did not have enough votes secured in favor of the measure to guarantee passage. (See New York Times article.) This was extremely good news, both because it signaled that there are a few moderate Republicans who will listen to their constituents on labor issues, and because the Republican party leadership (at this time anyway) does not consider this battle one that requires adherence to the leadership party line.
As previously discussed here on April 12, the Family Time Flexibility Act promises flexibility and family time that it ultimately doesn’t deliver. The bill does nothing to address the problem of mandatory overtime, and what’s worse, it actually provides an incentive to require workers to spend many extra hours on the job. Employers, rather than directly paying employees each time they order overtime, instead can merely offer comp time at some later date convenient for the employer, so there is no financial “brake” on extra hours. Because the employer can ultimately refuse the use of comp time when the employee’s absence would “unduly disrupt the employer’s business operations,” employers could actually deny comp time at the point at which it is most needed: during school vacations, teacher conferences, or when a family member is ill. Workers already complain that they are unable to spend vacation time when they need it (see USA Today article), so it is unlikely that spending accumulated comp time will be any easier.
HR 1119 also doesn’t provide any solutions for low-paid workers who need to work overtime because they need the cash. Workers who need overtime assignments due to low pay on their jobs fear, and rightly so, a switch to comp time. The employer chooses who gets overtime assignments and if workers don’t agree to time off instead of pay, it’s likely they won’t be chosen. What workers need is a higher minimum wage, not an erosion of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime pay protections. Also, why is Congress promoting a bill that is likely to increase the number of unemployed workers, rather than diminish it? Rather than hiring more employees and spreading excess work around, companies will instead just require more and more compensatory time–time that may never be taken by the employee when it’s advantageous for him or her.
While it looks like HR 1119 is not going to move ahead right now, this situation could change at any time. Business leaders, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have been pressing hard for the bill, and will not give up, despite this setback. Republican leaders will continue to push party moderates opposed to this bill to rethink their position. If you haven’t done so already, it’s very important that you contact your member of Congress, to make sure this bill stays where it belongs: in limbo and not going anywhere.