Proposed Overtime Legislation Passes House, Faces Uphill Battle in Senate

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Republicans in Congress are pushing a bill that would amend a cornerstone provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938: overtime pay for more than 40 hours of work in a week. Under the proposal, private sector employees would have the same flexibility as do most government workers in choosing between the familiar time-and-a-half overtime pay or converting overtime hours into time off, known as “comp time.”

Republicans advocating for the bill’s passage have argued that the choice between comp time and overtime pay makes sense in a modern economy in which parents often struggle to spend more time with their children, and would value the chance to do so more than additional pay. The bill is seen as an attempt by Republicans to apply free-market principles that optimize individual choice and benefit average working people, following an election in which a substantial proportion of swing voters were alienated by the party’s perceived indifference to middle-class workers and close relationship with “the 1%.”

Democrats largely oppose the bill, contending that it would create an incentive for employers to pressure workers to opt against overtime pay, and would provide no assurance that workers would or could actually use the time off. President Obama has indicated that he would veto the bill if it is passed without sufficient protections for workers who prefer traditional overtime pay to comp time. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has passed the bill by a 223-204 margin, which now faces a steep challenge in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Indeed, it is not even clear if the measure will be taken up on the Senate floor.