Eric Cantor’s “Make Life Work” Plan Costs Workers Time, Flexibility and Money

sad businesswomanListen up, working moms and dads: Rep. Eric Cantor has a deal for you — more time to spend with your family! What’s not to like?

Except for one hitch: You get to spend more time with your family only after you’ve been forced to spend more time at work away from your family. And your boss gets to decide when you take that extra time you’ve earned.

After some reflection on why women have deserted the Republican Party, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor gave a speech laying out the GOP plan to “Make Life Work” for working families.

Enter the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013, sponsored by Rep. Cantor and his Tea Party colleague Rep. Martha Roby. Instead of being paid time-and-a-half for overtime, workers may be offered comp time — a paid hour and a half off in the future in exchange for an extra hour on the job this week.

Need to go to your kid’s school play? Take your dad to the doctor? Heck, you could even save time for when the baby is born. Whatever you like.

Here’s the problem: the boss may decide that the slot you requested could “unduly disrupt” the business, reject your request, and tell you to take the time when work is slow. The comp time you are allowed to use may not coincide with your kid’s play, your dad’s cholesterol check or the baby’s arrival — but hey, we can all be a little flexible, right?

Also, those who need overtime to pay the bills are likely to be passed over when the overtime shifts are assigned; for them this bill represents a pay cut. Supervisors may well prefer co-workers who say they’re fine with comp time instead.

Workers already have a working families flexibility bill — it’s called the Fair Labor Standards Act, passed 65 years ago. Because workers had been burdened by inordinate work hours, the new law put a 40-hour-a-week limit on how much employers can require employees to work and a price on additional hours. That created a disincentive for employers to force workers to spend more time away from their families.

This new Cantor/Roby bill does nothing to address mandatory overtime. By making it possible for employers not to pay for overtime and offer comp time at an unspecified future date convenient for the employer, this bill provides an incentive to require long hours on the job.

Right now, there’s nothing stopping employers from letting employees rearrange their schedules to fit in a school play or doctor’s appointment. It’s standard practice at many firms.

And those who work a lot of overtime and don’t need more money can take unpaid days off. That, too, is an option now.

This bill may declare that employees, not employers, can choose whether or not to take comp time or pay, but it ignores the reality that most workers have no control over their hours or working conditions. Violations by employers of wage and hour laws are rampant, and many unscrupulous employers take advantage of a weak economy in which workers fear for their jobs if they speak up.

In many cases, employees will work extra hours and accrue comp time they will never be paid because employers will declare bankruptcy or go out of business.

During the debates in the 1990s on this issue, the corporate-funded National Federation of Independent Businesses promoted the idea of comp time because it gave them “something… [to] offer in exchange” for getting overtime hours. Put simply, comp time as envisioned here gives the employer more control over scheduling and the employee less money to earn. Rep. Cantor saying his plan is meant to help working families does not make it so.

Want to make life work? Ensure people don’t have to work extra hours to cover the basics or care for their families by:

• guaranteeing they can earn paid sick days.
• making family and medical leave more accessible and affordable.
• fixing the minimum wage to adjust for lost value and index it to inflation. (If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation, it would be $10.56 per hour.)
• guaranteeing minimum hours and predictable schedules, so that millions of workers can earn enough and plan their family time.
• passing equal pay measures.
• removing barriers to collective bargaining.

Workers desperately want more time with their families, more control over their hours, and fair compensation. The Cantor/Roby bill would make it harder for them to have any of the above.

Cross-posted with permission of Ellen Bravo from Huffington Post

Image via iStockphoto/Diego Cervo

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