This week, Republican leadership in the House brought forth legislation entitled “the Working Families Flexibility Act, H.R. 1406.” The title, however, is greatly misleading. A more accurate name would be the Employer Flexibility Act, because the bill would give employers the flexibility to deny their workers overtime pay.
H.R. 1406 would overturn a key provision of the landmark 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that ensures workers who work beyond the 40 hour standard work week are to be paid overtime – a rate that is set higher than the normal rate in order to keep the number of hours workers are asked to work reasonable. H.R. 1406 would undo this important provision so that an employer could, in lieu of making overtime payments to an hourly worker, make the promise of some future time off. And this legislation goes one step further. The time off promised in lieu of overtime payment would be up to the discretion of the employer. The employer could deny requests for time off for up to a year before the legislation would require employers pay out the equivalent in wages. This is great for your boss, but it doesn’t do much for you and your family.
In short, this is an anti-worker bill, aimed at harming our nation’s hourly workers – housekeepers, fast food workers, and store clerks. These individuals are some of those who need their overtime wages the most.
Gender is also a critical issue to consider as we look at legislation affecting workers: Women are increasingly the breadwinners in American households. A Center for American Progress study demonstrates that in more than two thirds of our families, women earn at least a quarter of the family income, and in many cases earn as much or more than their spouse. Among families with children in 2011, some 40 percent were headed by two working parents. Our federal policies must take this reality into account and meet our families half way by granting genuine flexibility while maintaining the important protections, like overtime pay, that help families thrive.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Republican Party leaders have sought to roll back worker protections. The past few years we have seen Republican Governors attempt to break up teachers unions and more recently, House Republicans repeatedly offered legislation to eviscerate the National Labor Relations Board.
If House Republicans wanted to help working families have more flexibility, they could start by undoing these earlier efforts to make life harder for American workers and join Democrats in calling for a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act so that women are paid the wages they deserve, or the Healthy Families Act so that families struggling with a child’s illness or other crisis could get time off to deal with those challenges without jeopardizing their families’ future. Another important improvement for working families Republicans have refused is to increase the minimum wage of $2.13 per hour for tipped workers for the first time in nearly two decades.
These ideas would enhance the economic security of America’s workers and help strengthen the social and economic bonds that knit us together as a people. I will continue working in Congress to push back against legislation like H.R. 1406 and protect the New Deal legislation that safeguards our workers and ensured our economic success over the past 80 years.