• How Lobby Days Work: While some of the details are still in the process of being finalized, here's a basic primer on what will happen. Early in the morning, you will attend a briefing session in downtown Washington, DC, where experts on the legislation and on the lobbying process will discuss the Civil Rights Tax Relief Act (House version/Senate version) and what to expect when visiting Congressional offices. You will have an opportunity to ask any questions you might have, especially if you have not lobbied before. You then will be matched with an attorney who will accompany you to your Capitol Hill visits, and given a folder of resource materials to leave in each office you visit. Next, you'll travel to Capitol Hill and meet with your Senators and Representative (or most likely, a member of their staffs), along with your participating attorney and possibly some other participants from your state or Congressional district, and ask for their support and/or cosponsorship of the Civil Rights Tax Relief Act. We then ask that you fill out a feedback form with your impressions of the visit, including any necessary followup, and if possible, participate in an evening "debriefing" session where participants share their experiences with the Lobby Day staff. It may sound difficult if you've never done it before, but previous participants can all attest that it's easy and fun, and most importantly, makes a real difference in moving this legislation forward.
• Why Should I Participate?: If you are currently participating in a lawsuit, then you have probably learned by now what is at stake financially for you should you win or settle your lawsuit. You may be forced to pay a significant portion (and in some cases, all and then some!) of your award or settlement in taxes, leaving you without full compensation for the income you have lost and the pain and suffering you have undergone. Your tax bill could amount to tens of thousands of dollars, and depending on your tax status and the attorneys fees awarded, you could even end up owing money for winning your case. While the cost of traveling to Washington, DC, may be significant for you, depending on where you live, it could cost you much much more if the Civil Rights Tax Relief Act is not passed this year. At this time of year, when taxes weigh heavily on everyone's mind, we hope that you will do what you can to avoid having to pay considerably more than your fair share of taxes on your civil rights award. Even if you are not currently participating in a civil rights lawsuit, perhaps you know someone, such as a friend or family member, who is affected by this issue. Please urge them to participate, and if they cannot, consider participating on their behalf, and making sure their story is heard.
• What if I Cannot Come to DC on May 6 & 7?: We realize that not everyone affected by this issue will be able to travel to Washington, DC to participate in Lobby Days in person. That is why we have several other ways that you can also participate, even if you cannot be there personally:
During the Congressional recess, April 14-25: you can make appointments to meet with your Senators and Representative locally, when your members of Congress will be in their home districts. For more information on how to do this, please contact Workplace Fairness, and a member of our staff will be in touch with you shortly.
Talk to your lawyer about participating in Lobby Days and encouraging other clients in discrimination cases to participate. More information for attorneys is available at the NELA Lobby Day page.
Participate in Lobby Days from home by calling or e-mailing your Senators and Representative on May 6th and 7th to urge them to co-sponsor the CRTRA. You can call your Senator by dialing the Senate Operator at (202) 224-3121 and asking for your Senator's office, and can reach your Representative by dialing the House Operator at (202) 225-3121 and asking for your Represenative's office.
Use our Action Center to find contact Senate and House contact information and to sign up to receive email alerts on the Civil Rights Tax Relief Act and other Workplace Fairness legislative efforts. Sign up here.
If you don't think that you can make a difference, please read this article about some teenagers who refused to take no for an answer: Utah Teens Gain State Study of Gender-Pay Inequities. If their efforts don't inspire you, I don't know what will. Whether you're with us in person or with us in spirit, we need everything you can give on May 6 and 7. Make your plans today!
The full House of Representatives is expected to act on HR 1119 in the next month, as committee leaders have called for passage by Mother's Day. (See Reuters article and Committee press release.) A similar Senate bill, (S. 317, the Family Time and Workplace Flexibility Act has not yet been acted on by the Senate. The Senate version also includes a provision that would replace the 40-hour work week with an 80-hour fortnight, that would not allow workers overtime pay until they worked 80 hours over a two-week period.
According to Rep. Biggert, "[t]he law governing the private sector workforce has been frozen for more than 60 years, locked in a time when women worked in the home, most families had only one wage earner, and nobody went to kids' soccer games," and [t]his bill gives employees choice and flexibility - and that is what they want." Is that really true? If so, why are the Democrats on the House committee so opposed to this proposal? Some of the criticisms of the proposal are as follows:
• HR 1119 does nothing to address the problem of mandatory overtime. In fact, by making it possible for employers not to pay for overtime and instead offer comp time at some later date convenient for the employer, this bill provides an incentive to require workers to endure long hours on the job. While HR 1119 anticipates this problem by declaring that employees, not employers, can choose whether or not to take comp time or pay, this ignores the reality that most workers have no say in their hours or working conditions. One purpose of the 40-hour work week is to keep employees from overworking current employees and failing to hire additional workers. In a time of economic stagnation, this measure discourages hiring new workers, and amounts to a pay cut for those who depend on time and a half overtime payment.
• HR 1119 won't help workers who need to work overtime because they need the cash. Workers who need overtime assignments due to low pay on their jobs fear a switch to comp time. The employer chooses who gets overtime assignments and if workers don't agree to time off instead of pay, it's likely they won't be chosen. Again, although HR 1119 appears to anticipate and penalize such discrimination, low-wage workers are not generally in a position to endure costly and protracted litigation, let alone the fear of additional reprisal, to vindicate their rights. What workers need is a higher minimum wage not an erosion of the Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime pay protections.
• HR 1119 doesn't guarantee that workers who have accumulated comp time will be able to use it when they most need it. Many workers who already have comp time complain about not being able to take it when they need it. The bill allows employers the right to refuse the employee's use of comp time where the employee's absence would "unduly disrupt the employer's business operations"--a standard that is likely to be the subject of many legal disputes if the bill is passed. While the goal of the legislation, according to the sponsors, is to help "working men and women achieve a greater balance between family and work obligations and spend more time with their families," this balance will not be achieved if workers, for example, are forced to use comp time at times other than during school vacations, teacher conferences, or when a family member is ill.
(For more information on the opposition to HR 1119, see the testimony of Ellen Bravo, Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, at the March 12 subcommittee hearing.)
Whether you support or oppose this bill depends in large part, on your own experience: your own needs, and your employer's accommodation of these needs. Some people need paid overtime in order to make ends meet: the number of hours they work above 40 each week at time-and-a-half supplements the insufficient wages they receive for the first 40 hours. Some people need more flexibility built into the law, as their employers will not voluntarily accommodate their employees in any way the law does not require them to (and unfortunately for some, even when the law does require certain accommodations).
It does appear, however, that time is only an adequate substitute for money when money is plentiful; otherwise, extra time off is a luxury some people simply cannot afford. Surely no one would suggest that for someone who can barely pay for adequate food, housing, and medical care for their children, time off in lieu of additional pay erases all these financial strains. In a perfect world, the Family Time Flexibility Act might be a very good idea. But in a perfect world, employers would voluntarily offer flexible work arrangements to help their workers balance work and family life without needing a law to force them to do so. And in the imperfect world we live in, many workers who now benefit from current law--the most vulnerable ones who need legal protections--may suffer if this law is passed.
Workers Who Feel Discarded
What Should Happen When Sexual Harassment Victims Don't File Prompt Complaints?
What the Economic Indicators Miss
It's Time to Land This Reward System