Boy, there is no shortage of creatively
terrible ideas from the Republican Party these days. Those
folks are just full of notions about how to make people's
lives worse -- one horrible idea after another bursting out
like popcorn -- and all of them with these sickeningly cute
names attached to them.
Consider the Family Time and Workplace Flexibility Act (Senate
version) and the Family Time Flexibility Act (House version).
The Bush administration is leading the charge with proposed
new rules that will erode the 40- hour workweek and affect
more than 80 million workers now protected by the Fair Labor
To hear the Republicans tell it, you'd think these were family-friendly
bills, something like Clinton's Family Leave Act, designed
to help you balance the difficult combined demands of work
and family. With such a smarm of butter over their visages
do the Republicans go on about the joys of "flexibility"
and "freedom of choice" that you would have to read
the bills for maybe 30 seconds before figuring out they're
about repealing the 40-hour workweek and ending overtime.
As The American Prospect magazine notes, when Republicans
talk about "flexibility," it means letting business
do whatever it wants without standards, mandates or worker
and consumer rights. Ever since FDR's New Deal, working overtime
gets you time-and-a-half in money, which has the happy effect
of holding the work week down to 40 hours -- or at least preventing
it from ballooning grossly.
The proposed Bush rules, which the two Republican bills codify
and expand, would:
- Exclude previously protected workers who were entitled
to overtime by reclassifying them as managers. Companies
are already using this ploy where they can get away with
it. Say you're frying burgers on the night shift at McDonald's,
making overtime, and suddenly -- congratulations -- you're
the assistant night manager, with no raise and no overtime.
- Eliminate certain middle-income workers from overtime
protections by adding an income limit, above which workers
no longer qualify for overtime. You like that? You make
too much to earn overtime.
- Remove overtime protection from large numbers of workers
in aerospace, defense, health care, high tech and other
industries. Pay attention, this one is coming right out
of your paycheck.
Big Bidness is lobbying hard on these bills. If you work
overtime to pay your bills, look out. The trick is, employers
get to substitute comp time for overtime, and the employers
get the right to decide when -- or even if -- a worker gets
to take his or her comp time. The legislation provides no
meaningful protection against employers requiring workers
to take time off instead of cash and no protection against
employers assigning overtime only to workers who agree to
take time instead of cash. Everybody gets screwed on this
one, except the bosses. Isn't it lovely?
The proposed rules changes and the Republican bills provide
a strong financial incentive for employers to lengthen the
workweek, on top of an already staggering load. By 1999, in
one decade, the average work year had expanded by 184 hours,
according to Kevin Phillips' book Wealth and Democracy.
He writes, "The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that
the typical American works 350 hours more per year than the
typical European, the equivalent of nine work weeks."
The bills give employers a new right to delay paying any
wages for overtime work for as long as 13 months. According
to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, under the
new bills an employee who works overtime hours in a given
week might not receive any pay or time off for that work until
more than a year later, at the employer's discretion.
"Without receiving interest or security, the employees
in essence lend their overtime pay to the employers in the
hope of getting back some time later as paid time off,"
the report states. "Employees' overtime compensation
is put at risk of loss in the event of business failure and
closure, bankruptcy or fraud. Furthermore, employees get no
guarantee of time off when they want or need it."
The EPI explains why Big Bidness loves these bills: "A
company with 200,000 FLSA-covered employees might get 160
free hours at $7 an hour from each of them (160 hours is the
maximum allowed under the bills). That's the equivalent of
$224 million that the company wouldn't have to pay its workers
for up to a year after the worker has earned it. Considering
that, under normal circumstances, the employer might have
to pay 6 percent interest for a commercial loan of this magnitude,
it could save $13 million by relying on comp time to 'borrow'
from its employees instead."
The slick marketing and smoke on this one are a wonder to
behold. We're being told that private sector workers will
get the same "benefit" of comp time as public employees.
Wow, keen, except the government has no profit motive for
pushing comp time instead of overtime. Boy, does this stink.