July 22 2016
featuring Sabrina Schaeffer and Carrie L. Lukas
In her Thursday night speech introducing her father at the Republican National Convention, Ivanka Trump surprised political pundits by promising that a President Donald Trump would look out for working women by focusing on “making quality childcare affordable and accessible for all’’ and fighting for equal pay for equal work. “Ivanka Trump Proposes Democratic Policies For Dad At Convention” opined a writer for the Conservative Review. “Ivanka Trump Wants To Convince You That Her Father Is Hillary Clinton” sniped left leaning Salon.
What’s received less notice is that in describing what her dad would do for women, Trump mentioned first something that likely came straight out of the GOP playbook. “As President,” she said, “my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce.”
Which labor laws does she have in mind? I don’t know, since my phone and email inquires to both Ivanka Trump’s personal representative and to the Trump campaign haven’t been answered.
But I do know this: over the last two decades, in the name of helping working parents, Congressional Republicans have periodically pushed to amend (and critics say weaken) the overtime laws that are part of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The idea, most recently introduced in the House and Senate as the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2015, would give employers the option of offering workers compensatory time off instead of extra pay, at time and a half, when they work more than 40 hours a week. “To working moms and dads, time is often the most valuable commodity,” bill sponsor Martha Roby (R-AL) observed in a statement on the bill’s introduction. “Working Americans need more time to be able to take care of family responsibilities, but right now federal law doesn’t allow the use of compensatory time in the private sector. Our bill changes that, offering workers more flexibility with their time at work and better balance with the demands of family.”
Not surprisingly, the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, in its recent report, “Working for Women: A Modern Agenda for Improving Women’s Lives,” embraces the compensatory time option.
But some labor and women’s rights groups argue that the Working Families Flexibility Act is a lot more flexible for employers than working moms. For example, the National Partnership for Women and Families (previously the Women’s Legal Defense Fund), dismisses the bill as an “empty promise” that would give workers “less flexibility and less pay.” The group points out that while workers could elect to bank up to 160 paid hours off, under the bill, they wouldn’t actually be guaranteed they could use those hours when they needed to, even for a medical or family emergency. An employer could simply turn down their time off request. (If a worker’s request to use her banked paid time isn’t accommodated, she could elect to cash in the banked hours. But in that case, her employer would have up to 30 days to ante up the cash, the National Partnership notes.)
Anyway, critics of the bill note, the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act already gives full time workers at establishments with more than 50 workers the right to take unpaid time off for medical and family emergencies. So under current law, a worker can simply put her overtime cash in the bank and use it to tide her family over if she has to take unpaid medical or family leave later.
Overtime is a particularly hot issue these days because of a final rule Obama’s Department of Labor issued in May that makes more than four million additional white collar employees eligible for overtime pay by raising the salary a worker must earn to be considered “exempt” from overtime. That rate, last raised in 2004, is now just $455 a week ( $23,660 a year). Under the DOL rule, it will jump to $913 ($47,476 a year) on December 1.
Congressional Republicans have moved to block the change, which House Speaker Paul Ryan declared would ”be an absolute disaster for our economy” and hurt non-profits, small businesses and young workers the most.
In its report, the Independent Women’s Forum says the new DOL regulations “are more likely to harm women in the workplace than to help” and that that any expansion of overtime eligibility should be delayed while the impact on women is studied. Exempt workers, the report adds, have more flexibility to set their hours and work from home and “cannot lose pay by going home early on a Friday night to attend a child’s sporting event.”