Allow employees to make the choice

May 8, 2013

There’s an old saying that no one, on his deathbed, ever expressed the wish that he had spent less time with his family.

The main thing that keeps a lot of folks from enjoying more quality time with family members – and other leisurely pursuits – is work. It would be nice if we all were independently wealthy, but most of us need our jobs to eat, keep a roof over our heads and put clothes on our backs. And for many, there is no such thing as a 40-hour work week. Putting in more than an eight-hour day, five days a week, is commonplace. The extra money from overtime pay is no doubt welcome, but something – namely free time – is sacrificed in the process.

Republicans in Congress have a proposal that addresses this very issue. Legislation pending in the House would change the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to give private-sector workers who put in extra hours beyond 40 a week the option of taking time off instead of receiving overtime pay. It’s a choice that already is afforded to government employees.

Said Rep. Martha Roby, an Alabama Republican who is the bill’s chief sponsor, “For some people, time is more valuable than the cash that would be accrued in overtime. Why should public-sector employees be given a benefit and the private sector be left out?”

This makes sense to us, but Democrats in Congress and their union supporters see this as a plot hatched by the GOP to clear the way for employers to pressure their workers into taking “comp time” rather than receiving added pay. To hear them tell it, one might think this bill is a short step from a slippery slope that could lead to employees being shackled to their work stations, setting the stage for a repeat of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire.

We exaggerate, but we think the Democrats are going overboard here. Certainly, no one wants workers to lose their hard-earned right to overtime pay for extra work, but this bill doesn’t do that. In fact, the legislation specifically prohibits employers from coercing their workers to choose comp time, and anyone who feels he is being mistreated in this regard has remedies under existing labor law.

The proposal would allow workers to annually set aside as much as 160 hours of extra time worked – four weeks’ worth – and use that time when they wish. According to an Associated Press report, Democrats are arguing that the legislation offers no assurances that workers could take that time when they want. Of course, they couldn’t. Just as employers now must have some control over when their workers take their vacations – for instance, not everyone could take the same week off in mid-summer – they would have to be given some reasonable control over when workers take comp time. Otherwise, every employee in a company could take off the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day and force their employer to shut down.

At its core, this bill is about giving workers some flexibility in choosing whether they want more money in their paychecks or more time to spend as they desire. Republicans in Congress often are painted as lackeys of big business, and it’s certainly fair to say that the party is not hostile to the desires of the wealthy. But on the other side of the coin, in this case, we see Democrats who appear to be doing the bidding of their union allies, the opinions of everyday Americans be damned.

We believe there are plenty of folks in this country who would like to make their own decisions between overtime and more free time, but it’s probably a moot point, because even if the bill were to win approval in the House, it’s unlikely to go anywhere in the Senate, where Democrats are in control, or be signed by President Obama.



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