House bill would allow paid time off instead of overtime

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By Sylvie Dale

Washington, D.C., April 3, 2003 -- A U.S. House of Representatives committee is working on a new bill that would allow paid time off in lieu of overtime pay.

The U.S. House Education and the Workforce subcommittee on Workforce Protections, chaired by Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA), approved the Family Time Flexibility Act on Thursday; the bill is now ready for full committee action.

This bipartisan legislation would allow millions of working mothers and fathers the option to choose to spend more time with their families in lieu of overtime pay, if that is what they believe is more valuable to them.

"This bill is a 'win-win' for working parents, who will have the option to choose when and how to spend more time with their families, and for our nation's employers, who will be able to offer such benefits and see increased productivity, loyalty, and retention of valued employees," said Chairman Norwood.

The Family Time Flexibility Act (H.R. 1119), was introduced by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) and currently has 77 cosponsors, including House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (R-OH), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO), Nancy Johnson (R-CT), and Democrat Reps. William Lipinski (D-IL) and Charles Stenholm (D-TX).

The bill would allow workers, through a voluntary agreement with their employers, to choose paid time off (also counted as time and a half) as compensation for working overtime hours. A similar arrangement is already available to many public-sector employees, who have had this option for more than 15 years. Nearly 22 million workers could be affected by the proposal, according to the Associated Press.

The legislation amends the Depression-era Fair Labor Standards Act, enacted in 1938. H.R. 1119 would allow workers to choose either compensation or compensatory time off, and would protect that choice from coercion to accrue or use comp time, just like in current overtime law.

If the employer and the employee (or, in union shops, the union) agree, employees can begin banking up to 160 hours of paid time off, to use at the worker's discretion. If the year ends with some hours still banked, the employee would be paid for the time at overtime rates. The employee is entitled to cancel the arrangement at any time, the subcommittee said in a release.

"What matters most to workers today is the ability to balance work and family. An overwhelming percentage of working adults are very concerned about spending more time with their families. In fact, many would prefer to have time rather than money. At a minimum, workers want and expect to have options that will allow them to make choices about spending more time with their families or pursuing interests outside of work," Rep. Biggert said.

Democrats and labor groups complained that those who do not seek to work overtime may find themselves facing increased mandatory overtime requirements. The AFL-CIO, a federation of American labor unions, warned that under the new legislation, the employer could coerce workers to work late without pay by promising time off eventually.

Sponsors of the bill say it would leave that choice in the hands of the worker, but the AFL-CIO said that both H.R. 1119 and a similar version in the Senate, S. 317, would give an employer ultimate control over when a worker is allowed to use earned comp time.

The provision to give employees choice between overtime or time off "ignores the reality that most workers have no say in their hours or working conditions," commented Ellen Bravo, director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women.

At a briefing by the Labor Department, officials admitted that the bill would take overtime eligibility away from about 640,000 office employees who earn on average $50,000 per year, commented Congressman George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

"The Bush Administration's plan would take overtime pay right out of the pockets of hard working office employees and hand it over to their employers," commented Miller. "Why is that a good plan?"

Committee leaders have called for House passage of the legislation by Mother's Day.

Useful links:

AFL-CIO: http://www.aflcio.org/
House Education and the Workforce committee: http://edworkforce.house.gov/
National Association of Working Women: http://www.9to5.org/

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