Connecticut lawmakers, advocates, pan GOP ‘family friendly’ bill

Washington  To try to repair strained relations with women voters, U.S. House Republicans plan a vote soon on what they call a “family friendly” bill that would allow employers to offer comp time instead of overtime pay.

The bill is promoted as an effort to give hourly paid workers, especially women, more time with their children and other family members. It is part of a GOP campaign to appeal to women, many of whom were turned off by Republican positions on birth control and abortion.

But Connecticut’s Democratic lawmakers and advocates for women say the bill is anything but family friendly.

Teresa Younger, executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, an arm of Connecticut’s General Assembly, called the bill “a farce of legislation.”

“This has nothing to do with giving the employee or family more rights but everything to do with giving the employer an opportunity to manipulate or intimidate the employee by making promises for the future,” she said.

The bill is also opposed by organized labor, which considers it a backdoor effort to weaken overtime laws.

Under the “Working Families Flexibility Act,” employers could offer workers up to 160 hours of comp time in lieu of overtime pay.

The bill allows workers to choose between overtime pay and time off.

The bill’s Republican sponsors say they are merely offering workers in the private sector the same privileges as public sector employees.

“Just last year, employees at the IRS took more than 246,000 hours of comp-time in lieu of overtime pay,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. “But an hourly employee in the private sector is denied any similar option. That is not right and it is not fair.”

The ads, which will link to a petition encouraging users to sign up and demand their House member support their bill, is aimed at putting pressure on certain Democrats, including Rep. Elizabeth Esty.

“Demand Rep. Elizabeth Esty provide more freedom for working mothers,” the ad says.Cantor hopes to put the bill on the House floor next week, where it’s likely to be approved by the majority of Republicans in that chamber. The legislation has a dim future in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Opponents of the legislation say businesses have high monetary incentives to pressure workers to choose comp time. If workers haven’t used their accrued comp time by the end of the year, they could lose it.

In addition, the bill would allow employers to deny a request for time off if that would “unduly disrupt the employer’s operation.”

“Instead of pushing a faux-family friendly agenda, Republicans should be taking real steps to help working families facing shrinking paychecks,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd.

She said increasing the minimum wage, helping women earn as much as men and supporting paid sick leave would do much more to help workers, particularly working women.

“The bill just enables big business to take money out of the pockets of hardworking hourly employees,” DeLauro said.

The bill was reported out of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce along party lines last month.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, one of the “no” votes, tried, but failed, to amend the bill by substituting the text of the Working Families Flexibility Act with a bill that would standardize sick leave.

The business community is supportive of the comp time bill.

“Anytime you have a cooperative relationship between employer and employee, it’s a good thing,” said of Lynn G. Ward, president and CEO of the Waterbury Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We’d like to see how this would work in practice.”

Oz Griebel, president of the Metro Hartford Chamber of Commerce, said the bill “makes a lot of sense.”

“Most business would be champions of providing employers and employees more flexibility,” he said.

House Republicans are trying to sell the bill with banner ads on more than 100  “Mommy blog” websites this week, including Ikeafans.com and MarthaStewart.com.

The ads, which will link to a petition encouraging users to sign up and demand their House member support their bill, is aimed at putting pressure on certain Democrats, including Rep. Elizabeth Esty.

“Demand Rep. Elizabeth Esty provide more freedom for working mothers,” the ad says.

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