One of the definitions of slave labor is prohibiting an indentured servant from demanding compensation for their labor, and although slavery is illegal in America, there is a movement to eliminate labor laws that prohibit employers from taking advantage of their workforce. Republicans and their conservative paymasters have begun a concerted effort to remove labor laws that have been in force since the Great Depression to increase profits of the wealthy, and their goal is creating a labor force at the mercy of employers who, if successful, will avoid compensating their employees fairly, and if possible, force them to work for less than subsistence wages. As it stands now, the only thing standing in the way of slave-like conditions are government laws to protect workers, and in their perpetual campaign to “get government out of the way” of unscrupulous businesses, Republicans are on a crusade to dismantle laws that prevent predatory employers from compensating their employees as well as protect workers from unsafe and unfair labor practices.
In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) effectively provided American workers with the eight-hour workday and the 40-hour workweek, and although it does not prevent employers from requiring their employees to work more than eight hours in a day or over 40 hours in a week, it does induce employers to either pay higher wages for longer hours or hire more employees. It is important to remember that the FLSA also outlawed child labor and required employers to pay a pathetic minimum wage that are both under threat of elimination from Republicans at the behest of their corporate masters paying them to “get government out of the way” of imposing near-slave labor conditions on the American workforce.
Last week, Republicans in the House passed a bill that eliminates overtime pay for private sector employees in what is a continuing GOP assault in their war on working Americans. Eric Cantor sponsored and heavily promoted the bill as a family friendly measure to “help” working mothers spend more time with their families, but the reality is it puts employees at the mercy of employers who are fed up with paying overtime wages for workers who put in more than 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week at their jobs. The way Cantor promotes the bill is promising that when an employee works overtime, instead of higher wages, they can take “time off” at a later date to spend time with their families, but he never reveals that there is no guarantee the employer has to give “flex time” off, ever, because the decision of when an employee takes their “flex time” remains solely under purview of the employer who decides when a worker can use their comp time, if at all. The bill effectively eliminates overtime pay and puts the employee at the mercy of predatory employers who can withhold “flex time” indefinitely, including when they terminate the worker meaning they worked overtime for free.
The law is also another Republican attempt to kill new jobs because without the incentives inherent in the FLSA overtime rule, employers have no reason to hire new employees to avoid paying overtime because if they have free rein to work employees 16 hours a day for minimum wage, they will not bring in new workers to save payroll expense on overtime pay; until they fire the employ to avoid giving them the time off they earned. Americans already work more hours and are more productive than any other industrialized country, and giving employers protection to reduce paychecks is a real threat because they can claim giving employees earned comp time will “unduly disrupt the operations of the employer.” Regardless what Cantor says, his bill is meant to force Americans to work more for less pay and it is another Republican gift to the business community regardless the damage to American workers and the economy.
Proponents of ending overtime pay claim many public sector employees have, and take advantage, of flex time provisions, but they are predominately unionized workers with protections the private sector does not afford its employees and Republicans are fighting desperately to end. America is one of the only industrialized nations on Earth that does not provide paid sick leave or paid vacations, and opponents of Cantor’s bill warn that it effectively “liquidates the whole concept of paid leave” because instead of giving workers paid vacations or sick leave, they will force them to “earn” time off by working overtime that still gives the employers the option to defer the time off indefinitely, or until the time of termination that absolves them from ever compensating the employee.
Most, if not all, Americans would rather not be forced to work overtime, but with wages falling and the cost of living rising they have little choice if they are to avoid falling into poverty. It is important to remember that with a woefully lacking minimum wage, a worker putting in 60 hours a week cannot afford to pay rent in any state in the Union, and eliminating overtime pay will make it harder than it already is to afford food, much less put a roof over their family’s heads. The National Partnership for Women and Families released a fact sheet titled “An Empty Promise: The Working Families Flexibility Act Would Give Workers Less Flexibility and Less Pay,” and noted that Cantor’s bill “sets up a dangerous false choice between time and money, when working families really need both. The bill would erode hourly workers’ ability to make ends meet, plan for family time and have predictability, stability and true flexibility at work,” and that really is the Republican’s 75-year goal in giving power to employers to abuse their workforce the FLSA was created to prevent. President Obama has already issued a statement promising to veto the bill if it reaches his desk saying it “undermines the existing right to hard-earned overtime pay, on which many working families rely to make ends meet, while misrepresenting itself as a workplace flexibility measure that gives power to employees over their own schedules.” The idea of employees having power over their own schedules, or their lives, is something Republicans are out to end to restore Depression-era working conditions before the New Deal or FLSA, and it is precisely what their “get government out of the way” meme is meant to accomplish.
If Republicans were not rank liars and they had the least interest in helping working families, or any Americans, they would raise the pathetic minimum wage, make it easier to form and join unions, and fund enforcement of laws against employer scams that are little more than wage theft. Instead, they promote eliminating the minimum wage, child labor laws, workplace safety departments like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and any employee protection agency administered by the government. They would, in effect, institute indentured servitude on the American people if they could get away with it to provide businesses with higher profits from Americans who are more productive, work longer, and earn less than most developed nations’ workforce.
America is one of, if not, the only industrialized nation that does not have mandatory paid vacation time, sick leave, maternity leave, or health insurance and now Republicans want to eliminate overtime pay, minimum wage, and eventually child labor laws. Slavery was abolished in America nearly 130 years ago, and although Republicans are not yet proposing its return, they are promoting conditions that make employees expecting compensation for their labor appear extravagant and there is little doubt that in their drive to create a nation of peasants serving the wealthy few, they will impose legal cover for employers to force workers to labor for survival wages and sadly for millions of Americans, they have already succeeded.