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Working Families Flexibility Act Will Hurt Women and Families by Linda Meric

Working Families Flexibility Act Will Hurt Women and Families by Linda Meric

Originally featured on The Huffington Post.  9to5 also sent the attached letter to every House of Representatives office opposing H. R. 1180. 

Much like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the falsely cloaked Working Families Flexibility Act (H.R. 1180/S. 801) would hurt, not help, working women and families. The Working Families Flexibility Act, a true misnomer if ever there was one, would in reality ensure that workers have less time, less flexibility and less money.

This anti-family proposal would force workers to spend more time away from their families in exchange for possibly getting to spend time later with their families. Under this proposal, the employer, not the employee, would determine when earned comp time can be used.

In other words, a low-wage working mother could be forced to work 50 hours one week during Spring Break when her children are off from school, and in exchange for that overtime work get 10 hours off another week when they are back in school. This may be flexibility for the employer, but it would cost the employee extra money for child care, less money in overtime earnings and less time with her family.

Low-wage workers frequently have to rely on their overtime earnings to make ends meet.

Employers currently steal billions of dollars annually from workers in unpaid overtime compensation. This proposal would make this problem even worse, because it would become easier for employers to avoid overtime compensation obligations. Although the bill provides the right to sue in court, low-wage workers lack the resources necessary to engage in costly and protracted litigation, and rightly fear retaliation or losing their jobs.

The bill would also allow employers to “cash out” an employee’s comp time over 80 hours or discontinue the comp time program altogether. This means an employee’s carefully crafted plan to bank time for a child’s birth or surgery could be thwarted by an employer’s decision to cash out the employee’s time or end the program. Under this proposal, there are also no protections for employees to receive the value of their earned comp time if their employer goes out of business or goes bankrupt.

Finally, workers already have some flexibility because of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Currently, employers can and some do allow employees to rearrange their schedules to fit in a school recital or doctor’s appointment. Employees who work a lot of overtime and don’t need more money can already be allowed to take unpaid days off.

The U. S. Department of Labor has approved updated rules that would significantly expand the workforce eligible for overtime pay. Those rules haven’t been updated in decades. The overtime provision is meant to serve as a disincentive to employers forcing employees to work excessive hours and take extra time away from their families. The new rules are currently being challenged in court by some of the same employer groups who are supporting the Working Families Flexibility Act. If they really care about the well-being, flexibility and ability to make ends meet of their female and male employees and their families, they should drop their lawsuit and embrace the USDOL overtime rule.

9to5 members, along with the thousands of women and men who call our toll-free national helpline annually, are desperate for more time with their families, more control over their schedules, and sufficient earnings to be economically secure. Michelle, a 9to5 Colorado member who is a single mom raising two children, one with special needs, told us the last time this bill was proposed, “Things are tough enough for single working mothers. If Congress was really interested in helping families like mine, they would pass policies that help us take care of our kids and our jobs, like earned paid sick days and paid family and medical leave.

Members of Congress should oppose H.R. 1180/S. 801, the Working Families Flexibility Act, and call it out for what it really is – an attack on workers’ pay, time and flexibility. Instead, legislators who want to support real flexibility for working families should support and champion measures like paid sick days, pay equity, fair scheduling, paid family and medical leave insurance, a fair minimum wage, and expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act. Federal legislation has already been introduced this session to address some of these subjects. To support real flexibility, the Congress must prioritize those bills and move forward to provide workers the standards and support that they and their families need. 

At the same time, the sponsors of H.R. 1180/S. 801 need to get real and drop the pretense. This bill does nothing to make life work for families, it just makes life harder for working women and those they love.