Friday, August 06, 2004

Bush Backs Flex-Time

Anything to avoid raising wages or paying overtime....

By Janet Hook and Peter Wallsten, LA Times Staff Writers

COLUMBUS, Ohio — President Bush called on Congress on Thursday to pass legislation making it easier for employers to offer workers time off instead of overtime pay — an idea Republicans hope will appeal both to Bush's core business supporters and to swing voters juggling home and work responsibilities.

The idea is also part of a broader effort to cast key elements of Bush's domestic agenda as ways to help workers adapt to major changes in the U.S. economy, such as the diminishing number of families with a stay-at-home parent.

"I think the government ought to allow employers to say to an employee, 'If you want some time off, and work different hours, you're allowed to do so,' " Bush told a crowd of supporters in Ohio, where polls show he is in a dead heat with Democratic nominee Sen. John F. Kerry. "Government ought to be helping families."

Although Bush cast the proposal in terms designed to appeal to working parents, critics — including Kerry and labor unions — called it a backdoor effort to deny workers the overtime pay that many depend on to make ends meet.

"This administration has launched an all-out assault on overtime," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said in a conference call arranged by the Kerry campaign.

Despite the broad popularity of flexible work schedules, legislation to promote them has drawn so much opposition that leaders of the Republican-controlled House decided last year not to bring it to a vote.

Nonetheless, Bush has put new emphasis on the issue in his campaign speeches in the last week as he has come under growing pressure from fellow Republicans to detail his domestic agenda for a second term.

It isn't that flex-time is a bad idea. It's that it's a good idea being subverted to an anti-worker purpose.

Bush has linked the flexible work schedule proposal with a call for giving people more control, or "ownership," of their lives — an agenda that includes expanding tax-advantaged savings accounts to pay healthcare costs and allowing younger people to invest in private retirement accounts.

The president notes that workers traditionally get their health and pension benefits from their employers, but that many of today's new jobs are created by small businesses, which he says often cannot afford those costs. That is part of the reason, Bush says, that he wants to give individuals more control over their health coverage and pension investments.

Bush's critics argue that the proposals amount to a fig leaf for a drive to narrow the traditional role of government and business in providing a secure pension, affordable health insurance and overtime pay.

"A lot of these things are about relieving employers and government of responsibility and putting it on the individual's back," said John Lawrence, Democratic staff director of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. (emphasis added by me)

Mr Lawrence has it exactly right. To the degree that Bush even means what he says (the 'compassionate conservative' routine is out of mothballs again--the one we haven't seen since his last campaign when, for example, he promoted a drug benefit for seniors only to turn it into a bonanza for the pharmaceutical industry), it's really just a front in the on-going war on workers--an excuse to relieve his corporate sponsors of yet another responsibility to labor and to the community. The Bush concept of 'ownership' means only one thing: individuals assuming the full cost of everything so corporations can avoid paying the cost of anything.

Under the pretty picture is a pretty lousy deal.