House Republicans are launching their first concerted effort to win back female voters on Tuesday with the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013, a bill that’s being packaged as a lifeline to working moms across the country.
Unfortunately, the legislation is a particularly cruel hoax—a slick attempt to give employers more power, and hourly workers much less.
At first blush, the idea sounds good. The bill would allow hourly workers to convert overtime pay into time off: in other words, instead of getting paid for extra hours, they could stockpile additional vacation time. The pitch here is that working parents could have more flexibility in their schedule and an enhanced ability to balance work and family. “This week, we’ll pass [Representative] Martha Roby’s bill to help working moms and dads better balance their lives between work and their responsibilities as parents,” House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday.
The GOP is specifically invested in convincing women this bill is for them. The GOP spent $20,000 last week on a digital ad campaign focusing on so-called “mommy blogs,” like Ikeafans.com and MarthaStewart.com, and geo-targeting Democrats in swing districts. “Will Rep. Collin Peterson stand up for working moms?” one iteration of the ad asked.
A fawning National Review profile of Roby, the bill’s sponsor, explains how she wasn’t sure she could handle a run for Congress in 2009 because of concerns about taking care of her children while running for a House seat and potentially becoming a member of Congress—and how those concerns have now inspired her to push this important legislation.
But it’s not too hard to see how pernicious this legislation truly is. “Flexibility” is a word that should make hourly workers check for their wallets—employers hold most of the power in the relationship with hourly workers, which is all the more true if they are not unionized. So “flexibility” to decide if you want to get paid for overtime work, instead of getting fewer hours later on, can quickly become a way for employers to withhold payment for overtime work while also cutting your hours down the road.
Over 160 labor unions and women’s groups sent a letter to members of Congress on Monday, protesting that the Working Families Flexibility Act is “a smoke-and-mirrors bill that offers a pay cut for workers without any guaranteed flexibility or time off to care for their families or themselves.”
Republicans say this isn’t true, and that there are safeguards in the bill that would prevent employers from muscling their employees into surrendering overtime pay. “It is illegal for them to do that. There are enforcement mechanisms in the bill,” Eric Cantor said in February.
But this is where they’re being really tricky—the bill does give workers the right to sue over such intimidation, but denies them the right to use much quicker, and cheaper, administrative remedies through the Department of Labor. It also gives the Department of Labor no additional funds to investigate nor enforce provisions of the act.
So if hourly workers get intimidated into giving up overtime pay in exchange for working even fewer hours down the road, they’re more than welcome to hire a lawyer and sue—a rather improbable outcome given how expensive that might be. Otherwise, tough luck.
There also isn’t quite as much flexibility in the act as it seems. As the National Partnership for Women and Families points out, while the bill does allow hourly workers to turn overtime pay into as much as 160 hours of comp time, it gives them no right to decide when they can use that time—even if there’s a family emergency. That’s still entirely up to employers.
Further hampering workers’ flexibility is that once they bank more than eighty hours in comp time, employers can unilaterally decide to cash out any additional hours. Also, workers who decide later that they need to cash out the comp time they’ve earned can do so—but employers have thirty days to cut the check, which could certainly be a problem for hourly workers on a tight budget.
Moreover, this isn’t even a new idea. Republicans proposed this same bill ten years ago, prompting the late Molly Ivins to remark “the slick marketing and smoke on this one are a wonder to behold.”
The legislation, simply, is a straightforward boon to big employers. “It pretends to offer time off but actually asks [employees] to work overtime hours without being paid,” Judy Lichtman of the NPWF told reporters on a conference call Monday. She added that it’s simply a “no-cost, no-interest loan to the employer.”
House Democrats will be nearly, if not entirely, unified in opposition. “The Working Families Flexibility Act sounds good, but it is a sham and we are going to call it out for what it is. It would cause more harm than good and we are going to reject it,” Representative Rose DeLauro said yesterday during the same conference call.
Due to the Republican majority in the House, the bill is likely to pass on Tuesday, but Senate passage seems dubious at best, and the White House has already issued a veto threat.
Of course, if Republicans are indeed interested in providing extra flexibility to help hourly workers balance family concerns with their jobs, they could pass paid family leave legislation. Only 11 percent of all private industry workers have access to paid family leave, and the United States is the only high-income country in the world not to mandate it. Unlike the Working Families Flexibility Act, paid family leave is generally something the employee has the unilateral ability to exercise.
Unfortunately, that’s something Congressional Republicans are deeply opposed to enacting. They blocked a proposal from President Obama in 2011 that would have created a $1.5 billion fund to push paid family and medical leave programs at the state level, and several similar efforts to enact such laws at the federal level.
In 1993, when Congress considered and ultimately passed the Family and Medical Leave Act—which mandates only twelve weeks of unpaid family time off—Republicans were apoplectic. One House member from North Carolina called it “nothing short of Europeanization—a polite term for socialism.” A young John Boehner, years from becoming House Speaker, said the legislation would “be the demise of some [businesses].
“And as that occurs,” he said, “the light of freedom will grow dimmer.”
Additional reporting by Nation DC intern Anna Simonton.
UPDATE: The final vote on the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013 has been pushed back to Wednesday.
Also, it’s worth knocking down a particular Republican talking point on the bill, as expressed by Eric Cantor’s communications director to me over Twitter, among many other places. They argue that, since federal workers already enjoy the ability to trade overtime pay for extra time off, workers in the private sector should enjoy the same rights.
The problem with this argument is that the federal government is not a profit-driven employer likely to muscle workers into giving up overtime pay in return for reduced hours. If that did happen, federal workers are unionized and enjoy many employment protections that Walmart workers, for example, do not.
It’s important to note here that, during the mark-up for this bill last month, Representative Timothy Bishop, a Democrat from New York, offered an amendment that would make the Working Families Flexibility Act apply “only if the employer enters into an employment contract with the employee that provides employment protections substantially similar to those provided to Federal, State or local employees under civil services laws.”
Every Republican voted against it, and the measure was defeated.*
*A prior version of this story said four Democrats also voted against the Bishop amendment, but they were just not present for the vote.
By: George Zornick, The Nation, May 7, 2013
Something happened today that is exceedingly rare in America, and the world — justice was served in a rape case. News outlets are reporting that 17-year old Trent Mays and 16-year old Ma’lik Richmond, both of whom are star football players at Steubenville High School in Ohio, were found guilty of raping a 16-year old girl last August.
On the one hand, the guilty verdicts shouldn’t be surprising. This case became so notorious largely because there was so much corroborating evidence. Eyewitnesses tweeted about the assault and, horrifyingly, posted photos of the passed out victim on Facebook. There was DNA evidence. Consent was never an issue, because the victim was either unconscious or to intoxicated to give meaningful consent.
On the other hand, many in the town rallied to the rapists’ defense and vilified the victim — a fairly classic move in these cases, particularly in cultures that valorize sports heroes. I’ll never forget an infamous rape case that occurred in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, a town close to where I grew up. In 1989, a gang of high school jocks raped a developmentally disabled girl (she had an IQ of 64) with a baseball bat — and yet the town rallied around the jocks and viciously attacked the girl’s reputation. It was sick. The rapists were convicted, though, and the case was the subject of an acclaimed book.
Getting back to Steubenville, it’s notable that the case was decided not by a jury but by a judge. I have to wonder whether if the case had gone to a jury composed of members of the Steubenville community, the verdict would have been the same.
And again, it bears repeating that rape convictions are exceedingly rare. Using statistics from the Justice Department and the FBI, RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) reports that out of every 100 rapes that occur, 46 get reported to police, 12 lead to an arrest, 9 get prosecuted, 5 lead to a felony conviction, and 3 see the inside of a prison cell. The other 97 lucky rapists walk free.
While at some level, it’s sad to see two such young men — or (almost) anyone, really — spend time in our awful prison system, prison sentences serve an extremely important purpose. It’s not even about them or their victim as individuals, it’s about the message that is sent. Jll Filipovic has noted that research shows that “cultural opposition to rape myths makes men less likely to commit assault, and acceptance of those myths makes sexual assault more likely.”
I believe that the same thing holds for how rape is treated in our criminal justice system. We have to show that rape is never minimized, excused or tolerated by a decent society, and that rapists must pay for their crimes. Today’s conviction in Ohio has probably prevented countless rapes from occurring, by unambiguously demonstrating the consequences.. A powerful blow against rape culture has been struck.
By: Kathleen Geier, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March, 17, 2013
Of all the feminist ideas that draw ire, one would think that “don’t rape” is a fairly noncontroversial statement. It seems not.
Last week, Zerlina Maxwell, political commentator and writer, went on Fox News’ Hannity to talk about the myth that gun ownership can prevent rape. Maxwell made the apt point that the onus should not be on women to have to arm themselves but on men not to rape them:
I don’t think that we should be telling women anything. I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there…You’re talking about this as if it’s some faceless, nameless criminal, when a lot of times it’s someone you know and trust…If you train men not to grow up to become rapists, you prevent rape.
And with that, the floodgates of misogyny opened. Right-wing media outlets like TheBlaze oversimplified Maxwell’s comments, writing that her call to teach men not to rape was “bizarre.” Online, Maxwell started receiving racist and misogynist threats—including, ironically enough, threats of rape.
The reaction to Maxwell’s comments, while horrific, are not entirely surprising. Women who speak their mind—especially women of color—are often targets of harassment and threats. But what I find most telling is the incredulousness people are expressing over the notion that we teach men not to rape. Crazy talk!
Here’s the thing—when you argue that it’s impossible to teach men not to rape, you are saying that rape is natural for men. That this is just something men do. Well I’m sorry, but I think more highly of men than that. (And if you are a man who is making this argument, you’ll forgive me if I don’t ever want to be in a room alone with you.)
And when you insist that the only way to prevent rape is for women to change their behavior—whether it’s recommending that they carry a weapon or not wear certain kinds of clothing—you are not only giving out false information, you are arguing that misogyny is a given. That the world will continue to be a dangerous and unfair place for women and we should just get used to the fact. It’s a pessimistic and, frankly, lazy view on life. Because when you argue that this is “just the way things are,” what you are really saying is, I don’t care enough to do anything about it.
Do people making this argument really want to live in a world where we just shrug our shoulders at epidemic-levels of sexual violence and expect every woman to be armed? (And little girls, do we give them guns too?)
The truth is that focusing on ways women can prevent rape will always backfire. Not only because it’s ineffective—what a woman wears or what she drinks has nothing to do with whether or not she’ll be attacked—but because it creates a culture in which women are responsible for men’s actions. Because when you say there are things women can do to prevent someone from raping them—owning a gun, not walking in a certain neighborhood—you are ensuring that rape victims who don’t take these steps will be blamed.
Rape can be prevented by focusing on men and misogyny. All rapes, ever? No. But creating a world with less sexual violence starts with abandoning the awful idea that rape is an inevitable part of life. That’s not naivete—it’s hope and it’s action. And that’s better than complacency any day.
By: Jessica Valenti, The Nation, March 12, 2013
Last week, Congress passed a bill with bipartisan support and sent it to the president. Even though the bill essentially reauthorized a law that has been on the books for nearly 20 years, in this era of gridlock, despite a fair amount of Republican resistance, it was a noteworthy result because of its largely bipartisan support. President Obama will sign the bill on Thursday, once again enacting the law.
It was legislation that reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, a statute first championed by then-senator Joe Biden and originally signed into law in 1994. Since then, the law has been reauthorized twice, in 2000 and 2005, with overwhelming bipartisan support until the House Republicans let it expire at the end of last year.
One has to wonder why, when the evidence has been crystal-clear that the law has worked effectively, that it was ever allowed to expire. Since 1994, the rate of intimate partner violence has declined by 67 percent. From 1993 to 2007, the rate of intimate partner homicides of females decreased 35 percent and the rate of intimate partner homicides of males decreased 46 percent.
So, what made this reauthorization process different? Was it opposition to the added provisions that help eliminate the backlog of unprocessed rape kits to allow law enforcement officers the ability to apprehend and convict more rapists? Was it the added provisions requiring colleges to collect and disclose information about sexual assault and provide greater services to protect students against dating violence and stalking?
Neither is the answer; the opposition came from 168 Republicans including Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who joined 10 other GOP women in voting against the measure, and said: ” I didn’t like the way it was expanded to include other different groups.”
Who might be those “other different groups”? One word: women.
The Senate added provisions to enhance protections for Native Americans, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth, and undocumented women who have been victims of domestic violence. Those are the women that Blackburn considers “other different groups” and therefore should not be afforded the same protections under the law.
The Justice Department reports that 1 in 3 Native American women is raped over their lifetime and that non-Indian men, who are immune from prosecution by tribal courts, commit more than 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations. The new provision included language to close this loophole allowing for the prosecution of these men while protecting their right to effective counsel and trial by an impartial jury.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, almost half of bisexual women have been raped in their lifetimes and nearly 1 in 3 lesbians has experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner.
In the 2012 election, Mitt Romney lost the women’s vote by 18 points, in part, by failing to connect with women on issues that matter to them most. Going forward, if the GOP ever hopes to bridge that gap, perhaps it should start by defining and treating all women equally as women and not “other different groups.”
It is incumbent that our lawmakers work to protect all victims of domestic and dating violence and sexual assault, and not exclude those women who might not fit ones traditional definitions. Let’s allow the reauthorization of this legislation to act as a guide for our country in continuing to be a cutting-edge proponent for women victim rights in the world.
By: Penny Lee, U. S. News and World Report, March 6, 2013
“Tone Deaf And Arrogant”: This Season’s Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor Takes On The Violence Against Women’s Act
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is a powerful player on Capitol Hill who has pretty much flown under the radar with the general public. But I predict that won’t be true much longer. Now that Cantor is taking the lead on blocking reauthorization of an inclusive version of the Violence Against Women Act in the House, more and more women are asking just who is this representative from Virginia’s 7th district, with his regressive brand of politics?
Cantor has a 12-year history in Congress of voting to restrict women’s access to abortion, deny marriage rights to same-sex couples and block efforts to address workplace discrimination. He’s opposed to affirmative action, embryonic stem cell research and expanding hate crimes law to cover sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability. He even voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
These anti-woman measures are bad enough. But the worst has been Cantor’s implacable hatred of the Violence Against Women Act, an antipathy so fierce that he not only took the lead in blocking it during the 112th Congress, but has now stepped forward to derail it once again. His reasoning? Near as I can tell, he just doesn’t want some victims to get help.
On Feb. 12, the Senate passed an inclusive version of VAWA reauthorization, S. 47, by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 78-22. The Senate’s bill would offer new protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims, who report being unable to access services at astonishingly high rates. It would address college and university-based sexual violence, dating violence and stalking by requiring campuses to be transparent about their assault rates, prevention programs and assistance for victims. It would also recognize Native American tribal authorities’ jurisdiction over rapes committed by non-tribal members on reservations.
I was heartened by the huge margin of victory in the Senate. It indicates that Senate Republicans understand they need to regain credibility with women voters — specifically on the issue of rape — and supporting a reauthorization of VAWA that protects all sexual assault victims would be a step in the right direction. Some House Republicans understand this too; 19 of them sent a letter to the House Republican leadership urging them to pass a bipartisan bill that “reaches all victims.” In fact, we know we have the votes in the House to pass the Senate’s inclusive VAWA, if the leadership will just allow it to happen without playing political games.
Unfortunately, Eric Cantor is either too tone-deaf or too arrogant to do the right thing. Rather than moving swiftly to pass the Senate VAWA bill, Cantor has produced a “substitute amendment” that eliminates protections contained in the Senate bill, and even scales back current law, while also undermining the Office on Violence Against Women. Among its many flaws, this substitute drops LGBT protections; permits non-Native suspects to circumvent tribal authorities, leaving Native American women with inadequate protection from their abusers; and allows college and university administrations to shirk their duty to keep students safe from sexual assault.
To boot, in keeping with the Republicans’ 2013 stealth strategy as telegraphed by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (i.e., stick with the extremist anti-woman agenda but don’t be so obvious about it), Cantor has put his own stealth moves on VAWA: His bill is deceptively numbered S. 47 (because it’s a substitute amendment of the Senate bill), and it was put forward by a woman, House Republican Conference Co-Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.). I’d say that’s too clever by half. Women voters are not so easily fooled, and will likely be offended by the clumsy attempt at subterfuge.
Eric Cantor is like this season’s Paul Ryan: an influential conservative with bad ideas who has thus far escaped public scrutiny. This time around we don’t have a Mitt Romney to help raise Cantor’s profile, but that’s okay. The majority leader’s attempt to derail a hugely popular bipartisan VAWA — and his willingness to write off the more than 1,400 local, state and national organizations that have expressed support for the Senate bill — will ensure that he will have to answer to the voters for his actions, probably sooner rather than later. Let me be the first to say it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
By: Terry O’Neill, The Blog, The Huffington Post, February 26, 2013