House Passes Comp Time Bill; Senate Prospects Unclear

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By Tyrone Richardson

The House May 2 passed a Republican-backed bill that would allow employers to offer paid time off instead of time-and-a-half wages for overtime hours.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where some Democratic support is needed to keep it from stalling as it has in past years.

The House voted 229-197 to pass the Working Families Flexibility Act ( H.R. 1180, S. 801). The bill, introduced by Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.), would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow employers and workers to voluntarily agree to 1.5 hours of compensatory time for every hour of overtime worked, for up to 160 hours of leave per year. The requested time would have to be approved by the employer.

The bill would cover private-sector workers. Congress amended the FLSA in 1985 to allow public-sector employees to be given comp time for overtime hours worked.

“This will do one thing for people in the private sector. It will give them the same rights as those in the public sector have to turn overtime into comp time,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said moments before the May 2 vote. “It’s a pro-worker, pro-family proposal that will make a positive difference in the lives of many Americans. The federal government should not stand in the way of more flexibility in the workplace.”

The House passage of the bill for private industry also comes as the Obama administration rule to expand overtime eligibility is on hold, pending federal litigation in Texas. The rule would double the salary threshold—up to about $47,500—below which workers automatically qualify for time-and-a-half overtime pay.

Republicans Defend Proposal

Both sides of the aisle engaged in a heated debate moments prior to passage of the comp time legislation. Rep. Phil Roe (Tenn.) was among the Republicans who defended the bill, touting it as “common sense legislation” to provide more workforce flexibility.

“At its most basic level, this legislation is about choice and the belief that hardworking employees know their needs better than Washington bureaucrats,” Roe said. “House Republicans believe it’s time to adjust our labor laws to meet the needs of a rapidly changing 21st century workplace instead of a one-size-fits-all, Washington-knows-best model.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) was among the Democrats who countered, saying the bill could weaken worker protections and touting the importance of overtime pay. It’s a “cruel joke on workers,” she said.

“It gives employers flexibility to not pay for time worked. It’s a smoke-and-mirrors promise that ultimately helps employers but hurts workers,” she said. “The choice between overtime pay and comp time is a false choice for workers. We know what happens in the reality of the workplace. The vague promise of time off in the future is often never realized and many hourly workers may feel compelled by employers to forfeit their overtime pay to accept comp time.”

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking member, cited some letters from unions representing public workers who were objecting to the bill. That included a letter from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which said the existing comp time for public workers has revealed “hardships.”

Democrats have also said that the requests for time off could be rejected if, as the legislation states, it is deemed to “unduly disrupt the operations of the employer.”

The proposed bill includes provisions that would allow workers to cash out their comp time if they leave the job. The measure would also have to be reauthorized after five years, a process that requires a Government Accountability Office study on its impact and enforcement.

The bill is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other employer advocates.

Will It Pass Senate?

The Senate version of the bill is co-sponsored by several high-ranking Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). But Republicans would need some Democrats to cross the aisle to avoid a filibuster. The comp time bill is currently referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

A spokesman for HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) sent Bloomberg BNA a written statement. “As a supporter of the House legislation and co-sponsor of the Senate’s companion legislation, Senator Alexander hopes to see the bill taken up by the Senate when time allows,” it said.

Comp time legislation has been introduced several times since the 1990s. A version of the bill passed the House in 2013 by a vote of 223-204, with three Democrats voting in favor of it. It stalled in the Senate, however.

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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