The Working Families Flexibility Act. Win?

This weekend, Andrew Malcolm brings us the full text of the Republican Party’s weekly remarks, this time delivered by Representative Martha Roby (R-AL2). In addition to Mothers Day, she spends some time discussing the passage this week in the House of the bill she authored, The Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013. ( Lest you think I’m burying the lede here… BREAKING: The House Actually Did Something.)

A more flexible workplace isn’t a new concept. In fact, many employees in the public sector enjoy this benefit right now. That’s because in 1985 Congress passed a law allowing local and state governments to offer their employees the option of comp time.

So, why should the rules be different for employees in the private sector? Why should government workers have more freedom in the workplace than everybody else? And why is Washington restricting employers from offering certain benefits that government itself is free to offer?

Our message to the American people is this: we want to get Washington out of the way of how you use your time. I am proud to champion the Working Families Flexibility Act on behalf of working moms and dads throughout the country.

The short version of what the bill does (full text here) is to make it legal for private employers to offer workers the option of putting in extra hours and, rather than getting paid for it that week, bank the hours to take paid time off later – providing it doesn’t cause undue stress to the work schedule – without having to use up their vacation days. Currently companies are mostly prohibited from offering this option because of provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938

This is one of those cases where I can understand opponents having hesitation or questions about the bill, and it deserved the fair debate it received. Those protections were put in place to prevent employers from abusing the system and avoiding paying overtime to workers putting in more than 40 hours per week. But the bill has put in provisions to protect against that, and only offers the workers a chance to opt for the extra time off if that’s what they want.

I’ve run into similar situations in years past. One place I worked when I was younger always had extra seasonal work in late winter where plenty of overtime was available. But I always wanted to go fishing in the spring, and went so far as to ask if I could bank up some time. I was informed that I could not because of legal reasons, so I can see where this type of flexibility would benefit some workers.

So if those concerns have been addressed, where would anyone find grounds to oppose the idea? Never fear. The Washington Post will find something, I’m sure.

Yet the National Partnership for Women & Families opposes the measure. Judith L. Lichtman, the organization’s senior advisor, testified against the bill before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, saying, “it would leave workers with neither pay nor time” and “magnifies the power imbalance between employer and employee.”

She argued that H.R. 1406 “offers a false, flawed choice that would make times even tougher for workers and their families.”

No real explanation is offered as to why she’s describing something which seems to be the opposite of the bill as written, but we might get a hint from the fact that the unions and in general and the AFL-CIO in particular hate this bill with a vengeance. While one might wonder why unions representing workers wouldn’t want workers to have more options, (assuming you’ve been asleep for the last 30 years) it’s really not much of a mystery. Unions live off the dues they collect from their members. The more they work and the more they earn, the more money goes into the unions’ coffers. Little things like extra paid time off to go fishing don’t do anything to stack up the cash they need to pump into the next round of elections.

Will the Senate take up this or a companion bill so it can go to the President? And would Barack Obama sign it if they did? Stay tuned.