On of the advantages of watching the whole Northwest region is the exposure to a range of arguments - and when it comes to Congress, exposure to not just what one side side, and one member, has to say about something, but counterpoints as well. People who stay in the news silos of their states often miss that: They hear their membetr of Congress but often get only a piece of the story.
With that in mind: H.R. 1406, the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013, which on May 8 passed the house with a final vote of 223-204. Briefly, it restructures a piece of employment law allowing more flexibility for use of compensatory ("comp") time off in countering for overtime work, instead of simply requiring overtime pay, which most typically is paid at time-and-a-half.
I have some sympathy for the idea.
Years ago, working as a newspaper reporter, I worked erratic schedules covering news events, night meetings, traveling various places. Strictly, I should have been paid overtime on a number of occasions when I wasn't, but what happened in some cases - when the boss and I worked it out - was that my schedule was quietly adjusted and in effect I'd take comp time instead. It wasn't abuse; arrived at through joint agreement, it worked better for me and for my newspaper. On occasion, we'd hear about a regulator cracking down on such practices, and so have to avoid it for a time. But I long considered it unnecessary and counterproductive regulation of something my employer and I were, left alone, pretty well able to use to mutual benefit. Sometimes the comp time was a better answer for me, as well as for the newspaper, than the overtime. Of course, circumstances varied; sometimes I wanted the overtime. We worked it out.
So when 1406 emerged, I wasn't altogether unsympathetic. And as Idaho Representative Mike Simpson, who voted in favor, explained it, it sounds pretty good: “It can be very difficult to balance the needs of family and work. H.R. 1406 offers individuals an opportunity to meet family obligations by choosing paid time off as compensation rather than overtime hours. This is a decision that should be made between employers and employees; the federal government should not be an impediment to those who seek flexibility.”
(You can follo the link for an extended argument in favor of the bill.)
So what on earth could those 204 House members voting in opposition have been thinking?
One of the 204 was Oregon Representative Suzanne Bonamici, who called a it "more work, less pay" bill. Here's her argument:
“If this bill becomes law, a single mom living paycheck to paycheck could work more than 40 hours a week and receive no overtime pay in her paycheck. She still has to pay the babysitter for the extra hours on the job, and she has no guarantee that she’ll be able to take ’comp’ time off when she needs it. She would have to accept the days off her employer offers, or else wait up to a year to receive the pay that’s rightfully hers.”
Although the legislation provides employees with the option of choosing overtime pay instead of comp time, the bill lacks any provisions to accommodate a worker’s schedule. Bonamici and others also argued this would allow employers to offer overtime hours only to employees more likely to choose comp time, closing off an important income stream to working families.
Bonamici highlighted a flawed provision of the bill that allows employers to delay overtime pay for up to a year with no requirement that the pay be placed in an interest-bearing account. When the bill was considered by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Bonamici offered an amendment to require that pay be escrowed and later paid with interest, but her amendment was defeated.
Add all the pieces together, and you get a bill that in basic concept might have had some real merit, but was by the time it hit the floor a bill designed (the protestations of employmee protection, which seem thin, notwithstanding) to give employers considerably greater clout than they have already in this time of a horrendous job market.
Paying attention to the details means looking at more than one side of issues like this.