EDITORIAL: Revising labor law

The private sector deserves the flexibility of the feds

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The makeup of the U.S. workforce and labor market has changed dramatically over the past 75 years; federal labor law, not so much. Since 1938, it has been illegal for private-sector companies to give their employees a day off instead of extra pay for working overtime a perk now available only to federal employees.

It’s a particularly obsolete concept in an era when time-strapped Americans are juggling the competing demands of jobs and family. Congress now has a chance to bring the law back into line with 21st-century reality.

If someone works overtime and prefers to be paid with time off rather than extra dollars, for whatever reason, it should be that person’s choice. Instead, the government made the decision as what’s “best” for everyone during a time when few women worked, and there weren’t many single working moms and dads.

Enter the Working Families Flexibility Act, which cleared the House Education and the Workforce Committee on Wednesday on a party-line 23-14 vote. The measure’s primary sponsor, Rep. Martha Roby, Alabama Republican and a 36-year-old mother of two, says her legislation is family-friendly because it gives employees flexibility when needed to stay home with a sick child, attend a parent-teacher conference, or care for ill or aging parents.

Federal employees have had this flexibility since 1985, when the law was amended to give bureaucrats a choice denied to the private workers who make up the majority of the workforce. That’s just how unions and their Democratic friends in Congress want it. They’ve even invented a scary story to justify the second-class treatment given to truck drivers, shopkeepers and construction workers: Private employers are untrustworthy and would coerce workers to take the compensation for overtime hours only as compensatory time, often called “comp time,” but never actually allow the employee to take the time off.

That hasn’t been a problem in the public sector. Mrs. Roby’s spokesman, Todd C. Stacy, says the unions argue that “the public sector is different. You can trust the government.” To account for this fear irrational or not the Roby bill makes it clear that no employee can be forced to take comp time instead of overtime pay. It further protects employees by requiring the employer and the employee to sign an agreement that comp time is an option, entered into knowingly and voluntarily by the employee. If the employee prefers overtime cash to comp time, he gets it.

For Democrats, the term “pro-choice” applies only to abortion, and the Working Families Flexibility Act promotes choice in the workplace. Democratic opposition to the bill makes it clear they are more interested in boosting public-sector unions than helping working families.

The Washington Times

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