January 11, 1995 in Nation/World

Gop May Re-Examine Work Rules 40-Hour Week, Family Leave Could Be Put On Table

Knight-Ridder
 

Did you know that one result of America’s shifting political tides could be a serious proposal to loosen rules governing the 40-hour work week?

Or let workers get more time off instead of overtime pay?

Or change how companies can be sued for job discrimination?

Leaders of the new Republican majority in Congress say they plan to critically re-examine assumptions underlying traditional workplace rules that have evolved in America over the last half century.

While Democrats are expected to block wholesale revisions in the current federal laws controlling hours and conditions of work, the fact that Republicans are publicly talking so broadly about change signals a major political turn.

“We cannot utilize a scorchedearth policy in our examination,” Rep. Bill Goodling who will be leading the review as the new Republican chairman of the House Economic and Education Opportunities Committee, said in a speech Tuesday. “I do, however, consider everything - and I mean everything - to be on the table.”

To Goodling, everything means federal laws promoting higher wages at construction sites, leave for pregnancy or illness, and overtime pay after 40 hours of work in a week.

The Pennsylvania congressman worries that existing federal workplace laws restrict employeecompany cooperation, waste jobtraining money and promotes too many work-related lawsuits.

Goodling is not proposing that every U.S. workplace law be changed; he doesn’t want to ban all overtime or create a 60-hour work week, he said.

But, at a meeting with the press following his speech Tuesday, Goodling said he does expect Congress to update and perhaps overhaul some key laws. Companies, for example, may need greater authority to use compensatory time instead of overtime, he said.

Organized labor and many Democrats in Congress view such workplace issues as a critical place to show how they differ from Republicans and are expected to resist fiercely proposed Republican changes.

Unions are counting on the threat of Senate filibusters or White House vetoes to delay, if not prevent, any pro-business revolution in labor laws.

How the public responds to that struggle is likely to play an important role in defining the political landscape for the 1996 presidential race.

One possible issue in that political war is a proposal under consideration in the Clinton White House to increase the minimum wage. Any such proposal would be dead on arrival in the GOP Congress, but could be used by Democrats to sharpen the political debate.

“But clearly a major debate is going to take place, and the ‘96 election will be the final outcome,” said David Silberman, director of the AFL-CIO’s task force on labor.

“To me, the critical issue the country is facing is what’s happening to the living standards of working families,” Silberman said. “The government’s role in establishing labor standards is vital to that.”

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