Labor Law Restricts Working Parents

By Ashcroft, John | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), September 4, 1995 | Go to article overview

Labor Law Restricts Working Parents


Ashcroft, John, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Since Congress declared it a national holiday in 1894, Labor Day has encouraged all Americans to reflect on labor's contributions to American life. This celebration of progress is usually combined with a discussion of current problems facing America's workforce and proposals to address those challenges.

Consider how the workforce has changed during this century. When the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938 setting maximum hour and minimum wage standards, less than 16 percent of married women worked outside the home. Today, 75 percent of women with school-age children work. In 1938, the labor force consisted primarily of industrial and agricultural workers earning hourly pay. Now, the service sector dominates the American economy, with workers increasingly compensated on a salary basis. And new technology has changed the entire character of the workplace.

Unfortunately, while the workplace has changed dramatically over six decades, our workplace laws have not. As more two-parent households become two-income households with both parents working, conflicts between work and family commitments are on the rise. For example, what happens when a child falls ill on a Friday? If one parent stays home to take care of the child, that parent would give up a day's pay. If both parents must go to work to pay their bills, who cares for the child? The conflict of job and family obligations is a burden for working parents.

To address these realities, the Fair Labor Standards Act can be updated to help working parents better manage their jobs and their families' needs. In August, I introduced the Work and Family Integration Act, which would allow employees to opt for non-standard, flexible schedules without undermining the basic 40-hour workweek mandated by the law. Under the bill, employees, at their own initiative, would be able to work with their employers to plan mutually agreeable work schedules that meet both employee and employer needs.

The Work and Family Integration Act would extend to private sector employees the same opportunity for flexible schedules that has been available to federal government employees for nearly 20 years. Experience has shown that federal employees overwhelmingly appreciate this voluntary option as a way to accommodate both work and family needs. According to a federal study, the results of flexible schedules in the federal workforce are impressive. Job satisfaction and employee effectiveness increased. Turnover rates and absenteeism declined. And abuse has been nonexistent.

Based on the program's positive result, President Bill Clinton extended the flexible schedule option to all executive branch employees last year. This action reflected popular Democratic support for the program. …

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