Republican's "Comp Time" versus Your Overtime Rights

Are you anywhere near as tired as I of Congress' constant attempts to use mendacious representations to disguise bad legislation? Well, they're at it again and this time they are going to try to steal away the federal requirement that you be paid overtime for working more than 40 hours per week.

With warm and fuzzy (and completely misleading) names such as Family Friendly Flexibility Act and the Family Friendly Workplace Act these are, instead, simple legal maneuvers to cut the cost of labor to corporations and business and to give these employers the flexibility that they need to make the maximum profit while sharing as absolutely little of those earnings as possible with the workers. These acts don't provide flexibility to workers nor are they "family friendly".

Since the enactment of FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) in 1938, employers have been required to compensate employees at a rate one and one half times their hourly wages for all time worked over 40 in any week. The reason the FLSA was enacted in the first place was because, in 1938, during the height of the Great Depression, unemployment was high and jobs at a premium. Business gave workers two choices; 1) low wages, long hours and unsafe conditions or 2) the bread line.

The situation in 1997 is very much the same. The largest difference is that unemployment is now a desire of government for the benefit of business rather than due to the economy , as it was then. We have a federal department, headed by business' best friend, Alan Greenspan, which has decided that the average American citizen's welfare is not its concern and insures that unemployment stays at the highest politically acceptable level to ensure a constant and hungry labor pool for business.

The inane argument that employees want this "flexibility" is another of Congress' lies. This isn't flex time, gentle readers, where the employee is allowed some measure of control over when they work. This bill allows employers to demand unlimited hours from their workers with a nebulous promise of time off in the future.

In a perfect world, this trade could provide benefits to both sides. Long time readers of this column, however, are aware that any opening given to the vast majority of businesses is abused without hesitation. Workers is certain fields are especially vulnerable to the abuse of this act. Construction, landscapers, garment workers or janitors could be forced to work long overtime hours for months at a time and when the employees expect to receive the time off, the company closes and reopens with a new name and new employees and the prior employees are simply out of luck. There are no provisions to force the business to guarantee to be fair. The employer also will be able to force the employee to use their comp time at any time which is most advantageous to the employer and can deny the use of that time by simply claiming that it will "unduly disrupt the operation of the employer".

Those portions of the act which give recourse to employees who can show that they were coerced into accepting comp time instead of overtime are so weak as to be missing completely. Only those who could afford to actually sue their employer, a very rare opportunity for minimum wage workers, could ever hope to recoup the lost wages. There are no provisions for attaining payment for comp time when a company closes, either. Again, the employees only course of action in through an attorney. Fat chance that a minimum wage earner would ever be able to afford to even retain a lawyer let alone pay the costs of a trial. The price of justice is always beyond the reach of those who most deserve it.

Finally, there is nothing to prevent employees from using the exercise of comp time to promote individuals or even to give overtime hours. If an employee wanted to be paid for work over 40 hours, the employer merely has to refuse to give them the time and give it only to those accepting comp time.

Once again, Congress is attempting to sell out the rights of American workers while masquerading their prostitution to their corporate masters as a benefit to these same workers. This double talk is becoming tiresome. Eventually these courtesans of politics will either succeed, which will be very sad for those of us who fought their aggressions, or they will fail and the rest of us can relax for an election cycle or two.

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Copyright 6/20/97