Calling the 'comp time bill' a scam is putting it gently
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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is an organization dedicated to making labor as cheap as possible to enrich the one percent as much as possible. So, it was no surprise that Leonard Court, the Chamber’s witness at a hearing on the anti-worker “Working Families Flexibility Act,” supported it.

Court testified to all of the supposed protections against abuse of workers and loss of overtime pay the bill provides. But, he tried and failed to explain away why every significant labor or women’s group in the country opposes the bill known colloquially as the “comp time” bill. Most significantly, Court never mentioned the fundamental reason employee advocates hate the bill, the reason being that it’s a total fraud.

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Under current law, an employer that honestly wants to give an employee time off to compensate for the sacrifice of working extra hours can do so. No legislation is required. The employer simply pays for the overtime when it’s worked and then gives the employee unpaid time off when the employee requests it. The employee gets the money first and the leave later.

 

The comp time bill turns this around — to the detriment of the workers. It gives employers the right to hang onto their employees’ overtime pay for months and months without paying interest on it or necessarily ever giving compensatory time off. Calling this a scam is being gentle.

Why is H.R. 1180 called the “comp time bill"? It’s because the overtime pay the employer withholds is put into a notional “bank” where it can be withdrawn and paid to the employee who takes leave at a time when the boss says it’s okay. The employee has no right even to use the paid time off when it’s actually needed or most convenient.

The employee can use the leave time “within a reasonable period after making the request if the use of the compensatory time does not unduly disrupt the operations of the employer.” Employees denied leave when they need it can’t afford to litigate over what a “reasonable period” is or whether their use of comp time is “unduly disruptive.”

In any event, by the time they filed a complaint, the day they needed the leave would have passed, and years might pass before the complaint is litigated or settled. 

Despite the claims of its sponsor, Rep. Martha RobyMartha RobyHow the GOP came to dominate, and be dominated by, rural voters House GOP not sold on Ryan’s tax reform plan Overnight Regulation: Senate confirms SEC pick | House GOP passes 'comp time' bill | MORE (R-Ala.), H.R. 1180 does absolutely nothing to improve family flexibility. It provides no paid leave, paid sick days, paid vacation, or even fairer scheduling. But it does undermine the Fair Labor Standards Act and the norm of a 40-hour work week by giving a new right to employers: the right not to pay for overtime hours when the overtime is worked.

The bill lets employers hold onto their cash for as long as an entire year before paying the employee for his or her overtime.

While the employees’ overtime pay is in the comp time “bank”, it is at risk. The Small Business Association reports that 400,000 businesses fail and close each year. The Chamber’s witness says, “So what? The wages will be given priority in bankruptcy.”

But instead of risking only last week’s wages for 40 hours of work, the comp time bank can hold up to 160 hours of overtime pay — four weeks’ pay, a loss many workers might not survive.

Mr. Court dismisses the idea that comp time would be an interest-free loan from workers to corporations, but that’s exactly what it is. Imagine a Wal-Mart sized employer with a comp time bank holding 100 hours of overtime pay for each of 100,000 employees paid $10 an hour. That’s a $100 million loan, interest-free from the employees to Wal-Mart.

The House might pass this gift to employers, but I trust that enough senators will look behind the family-friendly name and see this legislation for the anti-worker fraud that it is — and defeat it.

 

Ross Eisenbrey is the vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank created to include the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions. Eisenbrey worked for many years as a staff attorney and legislative director in the U.S. House of Representatives, and as a committee counsel in the U.S. Senate.


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