Beefed Up Comp Time Bill Adds to Overtime Pay Debate

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By Tyrone Richardson

A Republican bill floated in past years that would let employers offer time off rather than extra pay for overtime hours may get renewed attention in this Congress, adding to a larger debate about overtime compensation.

The reintroduced Working Families Flexibility Act ( H.R. 1180, S. 801) would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to permit employers to offer compensatory time off instead of time-and-a-half wages for all hours worked in excess of 40 per week. The measure allows for a voluntary agreement between the employer and worker on comp time and would allow an employee to earn up to 160 hours of time off that can be used at his or her discretion.

The House version of the bill, introduced by Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.), is eyed for “further” consideration by the House Education and the Workforce Committee, a committee aide told Bloomberg BNA April 11.

The Senate version, which has been referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, was reintroduced April 3 by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and is co-sponsored by high-ranking Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.). Aides for both Lee and McConnell did not immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment April 11.

The growing support in the Senate and change of the presidency adds to “optimism” that the bill could become a law, Todd Stacy, spokesman for Roby, told Bloomberg BNA April 11.

“A veto threat out the gate didn’t exactly help,” Stacy said, referring to the likelihood that President Barack Obama would have not signed the legislation. “Having a Republican in the White House means this will have a lot better chance of success.”

Heated Debate

An April 5 Workforce subcommittee hearing on the comp time measure led to a heated debate.

The legislation also comes as the Obama administration overtime rule is on hold, pending federal litigation in Texas. The rule would double the salary threshold below which workers would qualify for time-and-a-half overtime pay.

Labor secretary nominee Alexander Acosta, who will be tasked with deciding how to handle the overtime rule, is expected to be confirmed by the Senate shortly after lawmakers return to the Capitol April 24.

It’s not immediately known April 11 if DOL action on the rule could change prospects for passage of the Working Families Flexibility Act.

Needs Democratic Support

The Senate version of the bill would need some Democratic support to avoid a filibuster. So far, there are no Democrats among the at least 18 co-sponsors.

It wasn’t immediately known April 11 if any Democrats would back the measure. A House version of the bill passed a floor vote in 2013 with some Democratic support.

The latest House version has one co-sponsor, Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), the Workforce Protections subcommittee chairman. His subcommittee’s hearing April 5 showed strong division between Democrats and Republicans on the issue.

Republicans at the hearing framed the bill as a means to offer more flexibility to workers. But some committee Democrats accused Republicans of pushing legislation that could help employers coerce workers to accepting comp time instead of overtime.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), the subcommittee ranking Democrat, said the committee should be focused on legislation that “strengthens the Fair Labor Standards Act” by actions such as raising the minimum wage and the overtime threshold.

Takano dubbed the bill “the Betrayal of Working Families Act.”

“It’s just another sly way to give employers more leverage over our most vulnerable workers,” he told Bloomberg BNA.

Democrats have also warned that under the bill, requests for time off could be rejected if deemed to “unduly disrupt the operations of the employer,” according to text of the legislation.

Protections for Employees?

Byrne, also a former labor lawyer, said there are protections in the bill that would punish employers for violations.

“Democrats seem to assume that all employers are bad actors, and the federal government needs to put them in a restrictive box. That’s not how I see it,” he told Bloomberg BNA after the hearing. “The overwhelming majority of employers follow the rules and do right by their employees.”

Passage of the bill would mirror action in 1985. That year, Congress amended the FLSA to allow public sector employees to accrue comp time for overtime hours.

Republicans like Byrne are hoping efforts with the private sector will garner support from both sides of the aisle. That could mean garnering votes from moderate Democrats up for re-election in 2018.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see some bipartisan support for the bill, but I fear most people have already formed their opinion based on misconceptions,” Byrne said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tyrone Richardson in Washington at trichardson@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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