The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Comp Time bill:
Back to the l880s!

May 26, 2003

A bill now introduced in the Senate would open up loopholes for bosses to avoid paying time-and-a-half for overtime!

Set in fancy language, this outrageous time-warp of a proposal would allow bosses to avoid paying overtime unless workers put in over 80 hours in a two-week period.

Even then, bosses would not cough up overtime pay at the time. They would be allowed to "bank" the time and use it to give workers paid time off when the bosses didn't need them. Thus the nickname, the "comp time" bill, standing for "compensatory time off."

Bosses' uses for a bill like this can hardly be exaggerated.

Imagine the press operator who works 50 hours a week, gets paid for 40 hours straight time, and has 15 hours "banked" which he can use toward some time in the future. But that time is up to the boss. And the Senate bill even allows the boss to make the worker wait 13 months to claim the "bank" time. And what if a boss then says, "Not now, maybe later"? The worker has no recourse except to hire a lawyer and sue!

This is just one more step in the worsening of our working conditions – an attempt to get rid of time and a half or double time when you work more than eight hours.

Time and a half itself was a way to let the bosses get away with murder. Towards the end of the 1800's the workers' movement began to push for the 40-hour week with no loss of pay from their 60-hour weeks. Their goal was more time to live their lives, as stated in their anthem: "Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will."

When the union movement of the l930s arose, the unions adopted the struggle for time-and-a-half as a half-measure, saying that the bosses would hire more workers if they had to pay a premium over 40 hours. Back in the day, it may have had some effect. But soon the bosses had no problem paying this small premium to avoid the expense of hiring more workers, and the issue of "eight hours for what we will" slipped into the background.

If, today, some bosses are so bold as to want to eliminate even time-and-a-half, it's a measure of how little opposition they feel to any and all of their schemes. The few cents they would save with "comp time" would not look like much in their bank accounts. But "comp time" will push workers back toward the bad old days of the 19th century.