National Partnership for Women & Families

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From the desk of ... Debra L. Ness

Mothers, Working Families Aren’t Fooled

May 6, 2013 | Work and Family

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post.

Working people today face serious challenges when it comes to managing job and family: Nearly 40 percent of workers in the private sector — and more than 80 percent of those who are low-wage workers — cannot earn a single paid sick day. Forty percent of all workers have no access to even unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act when serious personal or family medical needs arise. And many struggle with unpredictable schedules or fear that taking time off will cost them the jobs they desperately need.

So why are some members of Congress wasting time on a bill that would make things even worse for many of these families? It’s a sad indicator of just how disconnected the majority leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives is from the realities of life for America’s families today.

The bill is H.R. 1406 — the misnamed Working Families Flexibility Act — and the House will consider it this week. H.R. 1406 pretends to offer workers the time off they need to meet health and family obligations, but in reality it would mean a pay cut for workers with no guarantee they can take time off when they need it most.

The idea seems simple enough: Hourly, non-exempt workers who work more than 40 hours a week would be able to bank extra hours as “comp time” — rather than time-and-a-half overtime pay — to be used later. The catch is that employees are paid nothing at the time they work the extra hours and employers decide when and if employees can use the comp time they earned. Employers can deny requests to use comp time if they decide it would be disruptive, or they can simply wipe out the banked time by paying workers the equivalent in wages even when a worker has been counting on the time to care for a new baby or an ill loved one. In short, it’s a smoke-and-mirrors attempt to undermine 75-year-old wage and hour protections guaranteed by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

People should not have to work more than 40 hours a week and forgo pay in order to earn time to recover from illness or care for loved ones — and this is just one of the numerous ways in which H.R. 1406 would harm America’s families and workplace culture.

Yet House leaders pushing the bill are claiming it’s the path to a more family friendly nation and the answer to working families’ problems. That’s absurd. And it adds insult to injury that the House is considering this legislation just before Mother’s Day — and proponents are holding it up as measure that would help mothers. This is blatantly dishonest, and women know better.

In fact, H.R. 1406 would disproportionately hurt women and mothers. Two-thirds of women are now breadwinners for their households, and they remain the primary caregivers for their families. They need predictable, stable schedules to ensure that their children are well-cared for and their families’ needs are met. Women are also more likely than men to work in low-wage jobs, so they can least afford to forgo pay. And what’s worse, under H.R. 1406, employers can deny them the comp time they’ve earned when they need to stay home with a sick child, attend a parent-teacher conference or help an aging parent.

If House leaders were serious about ensuring more family friendly workplaces, they would advance proposals that will actually help like the Healthy Families Act, which would establish a national paid sick days standard, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would help combat pay discrimination, the Fair Minimum Wage Act, and measures that will expand the Family and Medical Leave Act and establish a paid family and medical leave insurance program. These are the advances working families truly need. They are popular, common sense proposals that don’t force workers into choosing between time and money, and they recognize that working families’ financially security depends on both.

The National Partnership has fought for more than 40 years for a country where no worker has to choose between job and family. We call on every member of the House to vote against H.R. 1406. We commend the representatives who have already spoken out against it, and all those who refuse to be fooled by this bill.

The fact that the House is wasting time on a harmful measure like H.R. 1406 when badly needed, time-tested proposals are on the table makes it clear that too many of our leaders are more concerned with making it look like they are doing something to address the needs of families when, in reality, their proposals will make life worse. We must demand better and work together for the policies working families need to thrive.


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