“Working Families Flexibility Act” Is Really About Making Life Worse

Centro Nia
Washing dishes at CentroNía, an NCLR Affiliate serving the bilingual community in Washington DC

The number one priority for the 12 million unemployed workers in the U.S. is to find a job.  The other 155 million of us would do almost anything to keep the jobs we have, especially in today’s precarious economy where jobs are still scarce.  Yet today the House of Representatives held a hearing on a bill that would pressure individuals to work extra hours for no pay on the shaky promise of being compensated with time off at some later date.  The misnamed “Working Families Flexibility Act” (H.R. 1406), introduced by Martha Roby (R–AL), will mean a pay cut for workers with no guarantee of flexibility or time off.

H.R. 1406 is an affront to hardworking Latinos, who are disproportionately affected by wage theft, a practice in which employers fail to pay wages, including overtime pay, that are guaranteed under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.  It would only add pressure on workers to put their livelihood—and sometimes their lives—on the line for fear of losing their jobs.  In an economy where employers hold the cards, H.R. 1406 would increase pressure on employees to forfeit their overtime pay rather than cross their bosses.  For Latinos, who are over-represented in low-wage jobs like child care and food preparation, those lost wages could make even basic needs like food and transportation unaffordable, hurting families and the entire economy.

On the bright side, Representative Roby is revisiting the topic of workplace flexibility.  Everyone needs to take time off from work occasionally to attend to family milestones and emergencies.  All too often, workers are faced with the false choice of either taking time to care for a sick child or losing their job.  Certainly there is a lot we should do to bring the laws that govern our workplace into the 21st century, but the “Working Families Flexibility Act” goes about it all wrong.  Instead, Congress should consider policy solutions that would better match the needs of workers and employers—and grow the economy to boot.

Here are some of the most effective policies to strengthen workers and their families:

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