House GOP Shoves Through Comp Time Bill

WASHINGTON—Brushing aside opposition from unions, women’s groups and civil rights groups – among others – the Republican-run House passed legislation (HR1406) to let employers force comp time on their workers, in place of overtime pay.  And, foes add, employers would then deny the comp time, too.  The vote was 223-204.
The measure is part of an effort by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., a Tea Party darling, to “re-brand” the GOP as more “family friendly,” after GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost the women’s vote in the 2012 election.  Three House Democrats backed the GOP comp time bill, while eight Republicans opposed it.
Another part of the GOP comp time effort included a “roundtable” with carefully picked female “workers” – none of them unionists — in Fairfax, Va., on May 8, and sponsorship of HR1406 by Right Wing Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala.
The family friendly labeling didn’t fool 160 organizations, led by the National Employment Law Project, that signed a mass letter against HR1406.  It also didn’t fool the AFL-CIO and several unions that individually wrote letters against it before the intensely partisan House Education and the Workforce Committee OKd it before.
“The worker flexibility offered by HR1406 is nothing more than a mirage,” the mass joint letter said.  “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.  HR1406 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.”
 If Congress really wants to be family friendly, the signers said, it should pass pay equity legislation, raise the minimum wage and paid family medical leave.  Those Democratic-sponsored ideas have no chance in the GOP-run House.  HR1406 has none in the Democratic-run Senate or with the Democratic Obama administration.
Signers of the joint letter, initiated by the National Partnership, included the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Consumers League, the Steelworkers, AFSCME, the AFL-CIO, the Teachers, Labor’s Council for Latin American Advancement, Jobs With Justice, Working America and the Service Employees.  Some of the individual union comments against HR1406 were more caustic:
Teamsters President James Hoffa: “Proponents of the comp time bill assert this is designed to help working families balance work and family responsibilities.  This is a ruse.  Its real purpose is to give employers a tool to drive down wages…Millions of employees would work longer hours for less, meaning less time for their families and less income to support them.”
Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry: “HR1406 will mean a pay cut for workers without any guaranteed flexibility or time off…This would make workers’ schedules less predictable and mandatory hours more common.  HR1406 provides few worker protections in cases of employer misconduct.  Employers would supposedly be prohibited from coercing, threatening or intimidating workers for the purpose of interfering with their right to request or decline to request comp time.  But the only remedy provided, the right to sue in court, is too costly or risky for the typical employee to pursue.”
AFSCME Legislative Director Charles Loveless said laws covering state and local workers have the same provisions allowing comp time flexibility, at employer discretion, as HR1406.  But, he added, employers routinely abuse the flexibility rule.
“In theory, employees may take compensatory time within a reasonable period after making the request,” Loveless wrote.  “In practice, employees are denied the time when they really need it and the language of the law becomes a false premise.”

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