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Byrne Statement: Hearing on “Federal Wage and Hour Policies in the Twenty-First Century Economy”

In recent years, working families and small businesses have faced significant challenges as they’ve struggled through the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression. Since 2009, the economy grew at an average annual pace of just 1.5 percent. The net result is limited opportunity for hardworking men and women.
In fact, the labor force participation rate has dropped to 62.9 percent — nearly the lowest level in decades. Wage growth remains largely stagnant, as the average hourly earnings for today’s worker is roughly the same as in 2009. Meanwhile, 7.6 million Americans are searching for work, and nearly six million individuals are working part-time hours when what they really need are full-time jobs.
We cannot accept this as the new normal. The American people have clearly spoken, and they expect their leaders in Washington to put the country on a better path and finally get the economy moving again, which means more and better paying jobs.
That’s why Republicans are committed to advancing a bold agenda that will remove barriers to job creation and empower more Americans to reach their full potential. As part of that effort, this subcommittee will examine the policies impacting America’s workforce, and ensure those policies support, rather than hinder, the ability of workers to succeed and employers to grow and hire.

A key part of this effort will be robust oversight of the policies under our jurisdiction, and as Chairwoman Foxx has made clear, a commitment to holding the administration accountable for how it enforces the law. There is too much at stake for families and small businesses to leave any stone unturned, whether it’s examining policies that are intended to promote safe and healthy workplaces, holding federal contractors accountable, or ensuring wage determinations under the Davis-Bacon Act are done accurately and fairly.
We have a lot of ground to cover in the coming months. And of course, an important part of our agenda — and the reason for today’s hearing — will be taking a close look at a law that affects practically every workplace in the country: the Fair Labor Standards Act. The law was signed over eighty years ago to address the challenges that existed during the Great Depression. It established important protections for workers, and has served as the foundation of our nation’s wage and hour policies ever since. 
A lot has changed in those eighty years. For starters, things that are part of our daily life didn’t even exist back then — smartphones, iPads, and the internet, just to name a few. Advancements in technology have led to virtual workplaces, entire new industries, and flexible, innovative work arrangements. Most recently, we’ve seen the rapid rise in the so-called “sharing” economy.
The point is the American workforce has transformed dramatically, and the challenges facing workers and employers today are different than they were in the 1930s. However, our labor policies have failed to adapt. The rules and regulations surrounding the Fair Labor Standards Act are simply outdated. At the same time, small business owners are getting tied up in a complex regulatory maze that forces them to confront costly litigation and limits their ability to expand.
It is clear our nation’s wage and hour rules were designed for another era and no longer reflect the realities of the 21st century workforce. That’s why it’s so disappointing that the previous administration missed an opportunity to streamline and modernize these important worker protections. Instead, the Obama administration spent its time and resources advancing an extreme and partisan overtime rule that would stifle workplace flexibility and limit opportunities for career advancement.
I can tell you that small businesses in my district are breathing a sigh of relief that this fundamentally flawed rule was blocked by a federal judge. Countless small business owners were worried that they would have to cut their employees’ hours or even lay people off. Colleges, universities, and non-profits were bracing for an especially devastating impact. As an example for my home state, the rule would have cost the University of Alabama System 17 million dollars in just the first year, costs that would have likely been passed on to students in the form of higher tuition and fees.
Fortunately, we have a new administration that understands how misguided regulations often hurt the very individuals they’re intended to help. We also have a new Congress that is working to advance an agenda that will foster economic growth and deliver results for the American people.
Bringing our nation’s wage and hour rules into the 21st century will be an important part of the conversation. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses who can speak more to the challenges resulting from an outdated law and the need for positive reforms that will improve the lives of hardworking Americans.

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