WASHINGTON, D.C. | April 5, 2017
As I said at our first subcommittee hearing of the 115th Congress, “the rules and regulations surrounding the Fair Labor Standards Act are simply outdated.” We live in the 21st century, yet many of the rules governing America’s workplaces were designed by those who lived during the Great Depression.
It goes without saying that a lot has changed since then. Millennials now represent the majority of the workforce. In nearly half of two-parent households, both mom and dad work full time. That’s up from roughly 30 percent in 1970. Meanwhile, technological advances continue to rapidly change the very nature of how we work and stay connected to work.
As a result, men and women today face a different set of challenges when it comes to balancing the demands of their professional lives and personal lives. “There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.” It’s something I hear often as I talk to neighbors and families in my district. As our colleague, Representative Martha Roby, once put it, “We can’t legislate another hour in the day.” That’s true, but we can do our part to ensure the federal government isn’t making life more difficult for workers and their families.
That’s why Representative Roby introduced the Working Families Flexibility Act. This commonsense proposal would improve the quality of life of many hardworking men and women by removing outdated federal restrictions imposed solely on the private sector.
For decades, public-sector employers have been able to offer workers the choice between paid time off and cash wages for working overtime. That’s because in 1985, Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to give public-sector employees greater flexibility. In fact, in a report filed by this very committee more than 30 years ago, our Democrat colleagues wrote that this change in the law recognized the “mutual benefits” of comp time for state and local governments and their employees. The Democrat committee report even refers to the “freedom and flexibility” comp time would offer public-sector workers.
But under federal law, it is still illegal to extend the same benefits to private-sector employees who are eligible for overtime pay. This isn’t right, and it isn’t fair. Private-sector workers should be afforded the same freedom to do what’s best for themselves and their families. For many Americans working paycheck to paycheck, earning some additional income is the choice that’s best for them. But the federal government shouldn’t assume that’s the best choice for everyone.
Many individuals would welcome the opportunity to put in a few extra hours, if it meant having more paid time off to catch a child’s baseball game or dance recital. Others are in desperate need of greater flexibility to care for an aging relative, juggle work and parenting while a spouse is deployed overseas, or complete another semester of college while working full-time.
Every worker has a different story. But they all deserve the choice between more time and more money in the bank. They all deserve to choose the best option that meets their personal needs.
Unfortunately, union leaders and special interest groups have tried desperately over the years to deny workers the freedom to make that choice. They’ve used no shortage of false and misleading rhetoric in the process, so allow me to briefly explain what this bill actually does.
This bill preserves the 40-hour work week and existing overtime protections. For workers who elect to receive paid time off, their leave would accrue at the same rate—time-and-a-half—as wages.
The bill includes strong protections to ensure the use of comp time is completely voluntary. Workers can switch back to receiving cash wages whenever they choose, and they are allowed to cash out their comp time for any reason at any time.
Additionally, it is up to the employee to decide when to use his or her time off, so long as reasonable notice is provided and the request is not overly disruptive. This is the same commonsense standard that exists in the public sector, and I suspect it’s the same standard that is applied in most of our congressional offices.
This bill also includes important protections to prevent employers from intimidating or coercing employees into receiving paid leave in lieu of cash wages, and the Department of Labor would have full authority to enforce those protections.
This legislation is ultimately about freedom, choice, and fairness. An antiquated federal law shouldn’t limit the ability of private-sector employees to better balance work and family. Democrats and Republicans came together more than 30 years ago to amend the law to provide more choices for public-sector workers, and it’s time we did the same for workers in the private sector. This isn’t a new or radical idea either. In fact, President Bill Clinton had his own comp time proposal during his presidency.
I want to thank Representative Roby for leading this effort. Improving workplace flexibility is one step we can take to make a positive difference in the lives of American families — and it doesn’t require another government program, a federal mandate, or onerous regulations that burden small businesses. That is why I support the Working Families Flexibility Act, and I urge all of my colleagues to do the same.