7 Things You Should Know About “Comp Time” and the Working Families Flexibility Act

Say what you will, but anti-worker politicians are good at giving deceptive names to things. “Right to work” takes away your rights at work. “Paycheck protection” puts your wages at risk. And who could forget Paul Ryan’s plan to “strengthen Medicare” which ends Medicare as we know it.

House Republicans are pushing the “Workplace Families Flexibility Act of 2013,” which they claim would allow busy working parents to spend more time with their kids. That’s bogus. The bill replaces the 40-hour work week with a “comp time” accrual system that would allow employers greater control over their hourly employee’s schedule.

What’s worse? The bill ends ”time-and-a-half” overtime pay for hourly and non-exempt workers as we know it, giving renewed incentive for businesses to work their employees as long as they want with near impunity.

In other words, the bill does the opposite of what House Republicans say it will.

Confused? That’s exactly what they want. So here are 8 things you should know:

“Comp time” undermines the 40-hour work week. Quick history review: in 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) became law. We say it “established” the 40-hour work week, but really it just “encouraged” it, by telling employers that for any hours worked past 40, workers had to be time-and-a-half and receive it in their next pay period. The idea was you get eight hours at work, eight hours to sleep, and eight hours to do whatever you want. Another goal of time-and-a -half pay was to give employers a financial incentive to hire more workers when they have more work, instead of forcing workers already on the job to work beyond their scheduled hours.

With “comp time,” employers are encouraged to do the opposite. Making overtime less expensive to employers means more workers being scheduled for 50 or 60-hour shifts. Which means less time with your family – not more.

“Comp time” encourages mandatory overtime – and ends overtime pay as we know it. Instead of time-and-a-half pay for hours worked past 40, workers would get “comp time,” hours of time off to be taken later. Employers benefit because they don’t have to pay overtime, plus, they can have you use your comp time in a way that won’t cost them extra (during less busy periods, etc.).

According to the bill, individual employees have the “choice” between comp time or overtime pay. Since comp time saves the employer money, what is stopping them from inducing workers, subtly or not, into choosing comp time? They could give the “comp time” workers better shifts and better treatment, and they could even train workers not to take the overtime options – in the same way that Target and other stores train workers not to join unions.

Don’t be fooled: this is a pay cut. Again, having hours off “at some point” sounds nice. But overall, workers’ take home pay will go down, because that supplemental income you would’ve had from working overtime will disappear. Besides, depending on your schedule, you could get to December 31 without having the chance to use your accrued comp time, at which point you are left with no time off and no extra pay.

It has “flexibility” in the name, but provides less flexibility to workers… Employers already have the option to offer their workers more flexible schedules – most just choose not to. The only difference is that with “comp time,” workers don’t get the time-and-a-half pay they would with overtime. “Comp time” isn’t “paid leave” in the traditional sense, because now the employee is the one paying.

…and more flexibility to employers. Say you want to take your comp days off. You go to your boss and request an afternoon off to take care of a sick child, for instance. Under “comp time,” the boss can deny your request outright. Why? Because they can claim that your request “unduly disrupts the operations of the employer” or that the request was not made “within a reasonable period.”

So you’ve gone from a job with overtime pay to a job with unlimited shifts and no extra pay, and you can’t take days off when you want. And if you take the overtime option, your boss can treat you worse because of it. Thanks, Working Families Flexibility Act!

Kills jobs. People say this phrase all the time, “job-killing this,” “job-killing that.” But comp time sends the message to employers that it’s cheaper to work your current employees harder and longer than ever before rather than hire new people. When you take away the primary incentive to hire more people that literally, not figuratively, kills jobs.

There’s a better way. How about this: we don’t touch the 40-hour work week. Eight hours work, eight hours sleep, eight hours to do what you will – it’s a good system.

The problem remains, though, that many workers don’t even have right to earn paid leave to use when they get the flu, need to care for a sick child, experience a traumatic event, or even attend their kid’s school play.

That’s why Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Healthy Families Act, which would allow workers to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days each year. Workers would earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours work – no one gets something for nothing. You can learn more about that bill here, and send a message to Congress to pass it here.

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