COMP-TIME BILL PASSES HOUSE, BUT FACES TOUGH TRIP AHEAD

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Private-sector employers could adopt a policy allowing workers to receive paid time off in lieu of overtime wages for hours worked over 40 in a week under a measure that passed the House of Representatives May 2 by a vote of 229-to-197.

Although the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017 (H.R. 1180) previously had passed the House’s committee on a straight party-line vote, it was met with heated debate on the House floor, and the final vote tally reflected that six Republicans had crossed party lines to vote against the bill. 

Many Republican representatives issued statements heralding the bill’s passage, such as Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), chairman of the subcommittee on Workforce Protections, who repeated what had become a frequent mantra of those endorsing the bill that,  by passing the measure, “we have taken an important step toward bringing our workforce laws into the 21st century.” 

Democratic representatives countered with statements lamenting the bill’s passage, such as Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, who repeated a frequent counterclaim that the bill “gives employees no meaningful rights they don’t already have, and gives employers the flexibility and the power to withhold overtime pay in exchange for a false promise of comp time in the future.”

Despite such statements that echo conflicting takes on the measure’s provision that extends to the private sector a comp-time option that the public sector already has and its provision allowing employers to hold up to 160 accrued overtime hours for 13 months before the time must be converted to pay, the bill has only made it halfway through Congress, and the next step may be the toughest.

 

At least eight times since the 104th Congress in 1995 has a similar comp time bill been introduced in the House, including one introduced in the 113th Congress by Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.), who is the sponsor of the bill now under consideration. Of these measures, three successfully passed the House, but not one passed the Senate, which failed to act on all three measures.

Favoring passage of a comp time bill during this legislative session is support from powerful sources. The Senate bill (S. 180), a companion to H.R. 1180,  was introduced April 3 by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. The measure’s 18 co-sponsors include the committee’s chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), and Sen. Mitch McConnell  (R-Ky.), the majority leader. The HELP committee includes 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats, which suggests the measure could make it to the Senate floor.

In addition, the White House issued a statement after House passage of H.R. 1180 on May 2, indicating that if H.R. 1180 were presented to President Donald Trump in its current form, his advisers would recommend that he sign the bill into law.

However, first, H.R. 1180 and S. 180 would have to survive what is likely to be a ferocious challenge. 

A bill needs 51 votes to pass the Senate or 60 votes to break a filibuster, so a measure could face  a lengthy debate. The Senate has 52 Republicans and 46 Democrats; there are two Independents. 

Whether Democratic senators would be willing to mount  a challenge to H.R. 1180 or S. 180 is an open question, but Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D.-Mass), a member of the HELP committee, called the House’s passage of H.R. 1180 “a disgrace” in a May 2 statement. 

“With working families across the country scraping to make ends meet, Congress should strengthen protections for workers—not gut protections already on the books,” Warren said.

Stay tuned.

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