Working Families Flexibility Act: Increases Flexibility For Employers, Not Workers

If you were led to believe that the Working Families Flexibility Act will help working families, I can understand your confusion. Unfortunately, the title is misleading. Even though the bill is being advertised as a solution for workers who need flexibility to care for family members, the bill doesn’t accomplish that. Employers would get more flexibility while workers would lose money and control over their schedule.

The bill changes the 40-hour work week structure as we know it, with time-and-a-half overtime pay for hourly workers, and switches to a “comp time” structure. According to Working Families, this bill give employees greater control over their employees’ hours and gives “renewed incentive for businesses to work their employees as long as they want with near impunity.” Under a comp time system, workers don’t get time and a half for overtime worked. Instead, they get “comp time,” which are hours that workers take off later. It saves employers money because they don’t have to pay overtime, and they still have control over when workers use their hours off.

The bill offers workers “flexibility” in that they can choose between overtime pay and comp time, but businesses have high monetary incentives to push their workers to choose comp time.Workers lose money under a comp time system because they don’t receive the same pay increases as with overtime. And if workers haven’t used their accrued comp time by the end of the year, they lose it. Laura Clawson at the Daily Kos argues that the law would hit women especially hard, because they tend to bear most of the workload caring for children and the home.

On April 17, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce voted along party lines to advance the bill, and it is currently awaiting consideration on the House floor. It’s likely that the vote in the House will be along party lines as well. In committee, several Democrats tried to attach amendments that ultimately failed, including an attempt by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) to substitute the text of the Healthy Families Act. The act addresses the same problem from a different vantage point by establishing a paid sick leave standard.

No one can argue that the U.S. is way behind in terms of leave policies that allow workers to support their families. This is especially true for sick leave, maternity leave, and leave to care for sick family members and the elderly. The U.S. is the only high-income country that doesn’t have a paid leave program, and one of eight countries that guarantees no such benefit at all. Only 11% of all workers in the private sector have paid family leave. It’s clear that we have a problem to solve, but supporting legislation that actually helps employers is not they way to do it. We need broad structural changes that show we value the family as much as politicians say we do.