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Letting employees choose overtime or time off

The weak economy has created a workforce of extremes. Millions of Americans desperately need full-time work. Millions more are piling up overtime.

For some of those workers, business is picking up. For others, layoffs have led to extra duties. Some relish the extra cash that overtime brings. Some desperately want better work-life balance.

But private-sector workers really don’t have a choice today — under the Fair Labor Standards Act, they can’t bank overtime for future use as paid leave.

This month, the House of Representatives passed the Working Families Flexibility Act to provide workers with that choice. The bill gives private-sector workers the ability to voluntarily bank overtime hours — no more than 160 hours annually — to be dispensed later as time off or cash.

Workplace flexibility is the basis of this Republican legislation, passed along party lines. Sponsors have argued that some public-sector and unionized private-sector workers currently enjoy this option, so why should a different set of rules apply to everyone else?

Democrats oppose the bill, saying it doesn’t go far enough to protect low-wage workers from exploitation and that it would do little more than give employers free labor under a deferred compensation plan — and no incentive to hire.

Existing federal and state labor law already provides workers with protections, and the Working Families Flexibility Act includes language to prevent employer intimidation and fraud. The choice to collect overtime wages immediately or bank the hours belongs to the employee, not the employer.

The bill in no way forces a worker to accept comp time in lieu of cash. It gives employees an opportunity to accrue paid time off for emergencies or family events without eroding other benefits. It enables workers who have seasonal peaks to collect better wages during slow times.

Employers don’t want to grind their workers into the ground. ObamaCare, with all its penalties and mandates, looms as a disincentive to job creation. Businesses are still in survival mode. And that has put a lot of pressure on many people who feel fortunate to have a job. Unions and Democrats oppose the Working Families Flexibility Act, in part, because they want private-sector workers to have less flexibility. It makes them more likely to unionize.

Nevada workers deserve as many tools as possible to provide for themselves and their families while preserving their quality of life. Democrats claim to be the defenders of working families. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., should give his ranks an opportunity to prove it.

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