Don't change the overtime laws
With a new U.S. Congress sponsored by corporate America soon to be in power, the labor movement can expect some tough battles ahead on a range of labor issues.
One wish high on the list of business groups, such as the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is rolling backing the nation's overtime law to make it easier for employers to exempt workers and offer time off instead of extra pay.
Supporters of these "reforms" to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets the minimum wage and establishes the 40-hour workweek, claim that they are simply seeking to update an old law to reflect the realities of the modern workplace.
But workers and unions should be wary of business-backed proposals on overtime law reform. Republican proposals to change the nation's overtime law are more likely to benefit businesses than workers.
It is illogical that employers would spend millions of dollars lobbying for legislation that is supposed to help their employees rather than profits. The reality is that companies would prefer to have workers putting in longer hours without having to pay overtime.
One of the largest retailers in America is facing lawsuits around the country charging that the company cheated workers out of overtime pay by forcing them to work extra hours off the clock. The lawsuits also charge that the giant system of store's supervisors altered employee time cards to avoid paying overtime.
And with workers beginning to win more lawsuits on the issue of unpaid overtime, it is not hard to understand the real motive behind industry proposals to change the law.
Allowing employees to accrue time off as an alternative to paid overtime may sound appealing to some workers. And under certain circumstances, that policy might work. But for millions of workers, especially lower-wage workers, paid overtime is a key to their survival.
As with any business-backed labor legislation touted as reform, the devil is in the details of any such proposals. Unions and workers must fight to ensure that big business does not weaken the nation's overtime law to subject more workers to longer hours and less pay, thereby lowering the standard of living for all but the rich.