June 2, 2008 in Opinion

For family’s sake

The Spokesman-Review
 

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Four years ago, Cathy McMorris was a single Republican legislator from a rural district in northeast Washington. Since then she’s added a name – she’s Cathy McMorris Rodgers – and a family. She’s changed jobs and moved her office 3,000 miles to the east, where she represents Washington’s 5th Congressional District. She was chosen co-chairwoman of the bipartisan Congressional Women’s Caucus.

Maybe the change McMorris Rodgers has experienced in her own life in a short time has made her more sensitive to the transformation that has occurred more gradually in the world around her.

As she observed in Spokane last week, today’s American workplace is substantially different from that of the 1950s and earlier. She called particular attention to the prevalence of households in which two spouses bring home paychecks, causing them to rely on hired day care to make sure children are properly attended during work hours.

To that trend we would add the number of single-parent homes that count on one wage-earner but still face the challenges of child care and other household pressures that sap the budget and gobble up time.

For both workers and employers, a flexible work place has increasing appeal. Yet the nation’s 70-year-old labor law remains rooted in the Rooseveltian 1930s, stubbornly oblivious to the realities of the 21st Century.

An example that is all too real to hourly workers and the businesses they work for: If you’d like to work overtime this week and take compensatory time off next week to accompany your youngster’s field trip, you can’t. Your boss may be receptive, but the law isn’t.

Unless you’re a federal employee, that is. Those who work for the U.S. government have had the option of compensatory time off since 1978, but private-sector hourly employees are out of luck.

For many workers, of course, being paid time and a half for overtime work is preferable to receiving compensatory time off, even at the same time-and-a-half rate.

But for many other employees with difficult family schedules, as well as for employers with work demands that may ebb and flow, flexible scheduling would be a mutually attractive alternative to overtime pay. But it isn’t a possibility, thanks to outmoded federal law.

McMorris has introduced legislation to end that prohibition. Under her bill, HR 6025, employers and employees could work out an agreement about compensatory time. They wouldn’t have to, but they could. The law would allow an option it now bans.

Historically, labor organizations have been skeptical of legislation like this for fear it would erode protections that federal law now guarantees to workers.

Historically, many in the stridently pro-family wing of McMorris Rodgers’ party have looked down on the concept of mothers working outside the home, let alone having the law facilitate it.

History, however, belongs in the past, a point McMorris Rodgers’ proposal underscores.


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