Bradley Byrne: More options for working families

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In the early part of 2017, much of the focus in Congress has been on rolling back damaging policies of the Obama Administration. We have had real success in these efforts, stopping flawed regulations covering everything from education to the Second Amendment to Planned Parenthood.

I think it is critically important we continue looking to reverse regulations and policies that do not work. At the same time, it is also important that we advance our own solutions that will make life better for hard working families.

As Chairman of the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee, I led a hearing regarding one such solution last week. Our Committee held a hearing on H.R. 1180, the Working Families Flexibility Act. This bill, which was introduced by my Alabama colleague Martha Roby, would go a long way toward giving working families greater options when it comes to time off.

The workforce of today is very different from the workforce of forty or fifty years ago. Millennials now represent the majority of the workforce. In nearly half of two-parent households, both parents work full time. That’s up from roughly 30 percent in 1970. Meanwhile, technological advances continue to rapidly change the very nature of how we work and stay connected to work.

This means that working families today face a different set of challenges when it comes to balancing their work and family lives. We often hear the phrase that “there just aren’t enough hours in the day.” Well, the Working Families Flexibility Act would help address this issue and improve the quality of life for hardworking men and women.

For decades, public-sector employers have been able to offer workers the choice between paid time off and cash wages for working overtime. That’s because in 1985, Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to give public-sector employees greater flexibility.

But under federal law, it is still illegal to extend the same benefits to private-sector employees who are eligible for overtime pay. This isn’t right, and it isn’t fair.

Private-sector workers should be afforded the same freedom to do what’s best for themselves and their families. For many Americans working paycheck to paycheck, earning some additional income is the choice that is best for them, but the federal government shouldn’t assume that’s the best choice for everyone.

Unfortunately, union leaders and special interest groups have tried desperately over the years to deny workers the freedom to make that choice. They’ve been incredibly false and misleading in the process, so let me be clear.

This bill preserves the 40-hour work week and existing overtime protections. For workers who elect to receive paid time off, their leave would accrue at the same rate—time-and-a-half—as wages.

The bill includes strong protections to ensure the use of comp time is completely voluntary. No worker can be forced to take comp time instead of overtime pay. Workers can switch back to receiving cash wages whenever they choose, and they are allowed to cash out their comp time for any reason at any time.

This bill also includes important protections to prevent employers from intimidating or coercing employees into receiving paid leave in lieu of cash wages, and the Department of Labor would have full authority to enforce those protections.

Ultimately, this is about freedom, choice, and fairness. Democrats and Republicans came together more than 30 years ago to amend the law to provide more choices for public-sector workers, and it’s time we did the same for workers in the private sector.

The Working Families Flexibility Act is exactly the kind of forward-looking and conservative policy we should be championing as we help support the workforce of the 21st Century.

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Bradley Byrne is a member of U.S. Congress representing Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.

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