A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Oh-oh. No OT?

Bill Knight column for Thurs, Fri, or Sat., May 11, 12 or 13

“Choice” can sound pleasant (“Soup or salad?”), but it isn’t, necessarily (“Nausea or diarrhea?”)

Likewise, lawmakers who think like lobbyists or marketing types use words like “offer,” “option” and “flexible” and expect regular people to get excited about Good Times to Come.

The Working Families Flexibility Act was approved by the GOP majority in the House of Representatives on May 2. It’s the newest version of an old Republican issue: forcing workers into accepting promises of time off at some point in the future instead of the overtime pay they earn now.

The 229-197 vote broke mostly by party, with no Democrats supporting it and just six Republicans opposing it. It’s now gone to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

“If [House Speaker Paul] Ryan and others are able to get this passed, it would mean that employers could choose to give working people time off instead of paying them the required ‘time and a half’ for overtime hours worked,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler. “It’s ‘paid leave,’ sort of, but workers wouldn’t be making as much as they would if they just were paid the standard overtime rate.”

Supporters such as U.S. Reps. Darin LaHood (R-18th Dist.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-16th Dist.), who both voted for the measure, say the bill would help people better balance work and family. Oddly – obviously – companies can already do this, bargaining or unilaterally presenting family-leave policies, paid vacation comparable to Europe’s, and genuinely flexible scheduling that could benefit employer and worker alike. Further, the “flexibility” workers really need could be helped enormously with paid sick days, a better minimum wage, and pay equity between men and women workers.

Instead, the Working Families Flexibility Act would let workers accumulate up to 160 hours of comp time, but it provides no means to ensure the hours can be used at workers’ convenience.

The predictable consequences? Unpredictable schedules, longer hours, and one more way to pressure workers to “do more with less.”

This scheme would encourage bosses to demand excessive hours by making overtime work cheaper for them. It would let employers pay workers nothing for overtime work during the pay period when workers actually do the work. Then, the “flexibility” would let managers schedule comp time off at their convenience, not workers. Choosing between OT and time off is an illusion anyway.

Employers have the power to hire, fire, transfer and schedule workers they deem “uncooperative” if they insist on being paid for hours worked. (The nerve!) Supervisor pressures would make it unlikely comp time would be truly voluntary; management has the exclusive power to approve when comp time can be used under this measure.

And the temptation for employers would be colossal. Comp time would be a loan of labor that becomes an outright gift if unused.

In a letter to lawmakers, AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel said the comp time for overtime bill would hurt millions of workers by depriving them of pay they need. After all, people cannot buy food or fuel, pay rent or utilities with time off.

“The Working Families Flexibility Act (HR1180) would weaken overtime protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), reduce take-home pay for millions of workers, and result in longer hours, more unpredictable schedules, and higher day care costs for working parents,” Samuel said.

“The FLSA established the 40-hour workweek to allow employees to spend more time away from work. The only incentive to uphold the 40-hour workweek is the requirement that employers pay a time-and-a-half cash premium for overtime. The FLSA discourages [firms] from demanding excessive hours by making overtime work more expensive.”

Even if somehow applied fairly, the GOP legislation “would reduce take-home pay for millions of workers who are compensated with time off rather than cash. These workers would no longer receive any supplementary income as a result of their overtime work.”

The bill is also a barely disguised attack on President Obama’s 2016 landmark modernization of the overtime rule, which sought to double the wage threshold for overtime pay, extending OT pay to millions of workers. A Texas judge blocked the rule, and it’s doubtful the Trump administration will appeal that decision.

The 40-hour week stems from FLSA, which for 79 years has guaranteed fair pay for overtime work, and besides discouraging companies from overworking employees, it encourges them to hire more workers to meet their staffing needs).

“Literally, this is a complete and total fraud. [It] doesn’t give any new rights to workers that they don’t have now,” said Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute. “But it does give new rights to employers.”

In reality, it could cause a storm that erodes the levee of labor rights protecting workers from outright exploitation, and the flood would be devastating.

[PICTURED: Graphic from SEIU Local 200 United.]

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