Working Families Flexibility Act: Why Are Democrats Opposing More Comp Time?

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the Working Families Flexibility Act, which would give hourly private-sector workers the option to reject overtime pay in in favor of compensatory time off. The Senate is unlikely to take up the legislation, as Democrats vociferously oppose it. Their reasoning would make more sense if their arguments were more consistent.

Under the legislation, comp time would accumulate at the rate of 1.5 hours per hour of overtime worked, employees would be permitted to accumulate a maximum of 160 hours annually, and employers would be required to pay out unused time at termination.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a tweet about the legislation suggesting that it encouraged employers to “push working moms to give up wages and take time off instead,” and also that it allowed employers “to refuse a working mom’s request for time off.”

Specifically, the Democrats' complaints center on the possibilities that employers could pressure employees who would prefer overtime pay to take time off instead, and that employers might not work with employees to provide the specific time off that they request.

Yet this particular legislation applies only to private-sector workers. Public-sector employees already have the right to choose time off instead of overtime pay. It is true that at times, it has been difficult for employees to get time off on the dates that they request. Regulations have evolved over the years through judicial decisions in which different circuit courts reached different conclusions.

Generally, though, regulations on the matter have been developing in favor of employees. In April 2011, the Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division (WHD) ruled in favor of employees, writing, “The Department believes that the better reading” of the law “is that it requires employers to grant compensatory time on the specific date requested unless doing so would unduly disrupt” the employer’s business.

Rules on that matter will remain variable until Congress changes the law or the Supreme Court makes its own ruling. In the meantime, the fact remains that Democrats are willing to allow government employees a degree of flexibility that they refuse to grant workers in the private sector.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) echoed complaints about the legislation, saying that employees “will not be able to earn overtime, because the employer will invariably… go to the person that will in fact do it for free.”

Though Hoyer argues that private sector workers should not have the option of negotiating their own compensation, he makes the unique argument that they should have a right to work overtime, even in the event it is financially difficult for employers to facilitate. His troubled reasoning seems like a recipe for economic dysfunction.

What is most notable is that any of these Democrats complains that compensation is too low. That’s a proposition conservatives can agree with. The nation reached Tax Freedom Day — the day the country’s tax burden for the year was paid — on April 18, less than one month ago. The average American will pay 29.4% of their income in taxes this year. In fact, Hoyer’s Maryland boasts the eighth-highest tax burden in the nation, while Pelosi’s California has the sixth-highest. Those figures suggest they don’t care about anyone’s financial well-being at all.

Democrats genuinely interested in raising workers’ pay should look at decreasing the tax burden. Moreover, they should seek to provide private-sector employees with the same flexibility given to government employees. In the absence of those things, their arguments about overtime compensation ring hollow.