Flexibility, the New F Word
If there’s one new sleight-of-hand term we’ve learned in the past few months, it’s “flexibility.” Last week, flexibility gained a new meaning, as the House of Representatives passed the so-called Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013. Flexibility in this bill, though, actually means less flexibility, less choice, less time and less money for working families.
This bill proposes to grant workers more flexibility by allowing them to convert overtime hours into future vacation time, instead of earning extra pay. Speaker John Boehner says that this would grant working parents the flexibility to choose more time off when they need it: “This week, we’ll pass [Representative] Martha Roby’s bill to help working moms and dads better balance their lives between work and their responsibilities as parents.” In reality, though, this bill is nothing but bad news for parents.
As a letter signed by over 160 advocacy organizations lays out, this bill is just a smoke-screen:
- The Working Families Flexibility Act offers a false choice between time and pay. The bill’s supporters claim H.R. 1406 would give hourly workers more flexibility and time with their loved ones by allowing them to choose paid time off, rather than time-and-a-half wages, as compensation for working more than 40 hours in one week (“comp time”). But the irony is that workers will only get more time with their families after they’ve spent long hours away at work. And there is nothing in H.R. 1406 that guarantees that workers will be able to use the comp time they have earned when they need it.
- The worker flexibility offered by H.R. 1406 is nothing more than a mirage. That’s because this proposal gives the employer, not the employee, the “flexibility” to decide when and even if comp time can be used. The bill permits the employer to deny the request entirely if the employee’s use of comp time would “unduly disrupt” operations or to grant leave on a day other than the day requested by the employee. This means that H.R. 1406 provides no guarantee that workers can use their earned time when a child falls ill, to attend a parent-teacher conference, or to help an aging parent settle in to a nursing home. Employers can veto an employee’s request to use comp time even in cases of urgent need.
- H.R. 1406 would put workers at very real risk and provides an interest-free loan to employers. An employee who does not accept comp time could be penalized with fewer hours, bad shifts and loss of overtime hours. And because it is cheaper to provide comp time than to pay overtime wages, there is a significant incentive for employers to hire fewer people and rely on overtime hours – paid for in future comp time – to get work done. It would permit employers to defer compensation for unused comp time for as long as 13 months, creating an interest-free loan for employers and hardships for workers.
The Torah teaches, “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, but you must pay him his wages on the same day, for he is needy and urgently depends on it” (Deuteronomy 24:14-15). Even though the Torah was written thousands of years ago, there is no stretch of language or imagination needed to apply these ancient words to today’s legislation. The Working Families Flexibility Act clearly gives employers the ability—and the incentive—to not pay their workers on the same day, and to save that pay in the form of a long-term, interest-free loan to the detriment of the employee.
Workers do need flexibility, but not “flexibility” if it means cheating them out of hard-earned time and money. There are other options already on the table and introduced in Congress—ways to give working parents the supports they need to balance work and family. These include paid sick days, expanded access to the Family Medical Leave Act, a fair minimum wage and paycheck fairness. Unlike H.R. 1406, these are policy solutions that have been proven to work. So let’s use them!
Image from Forbes