The Scoop

The Scoop

Unfriendly Act:
‘Comp time’ is unreal overtime

By Bob Harris

THE SENATE is toying around with an idea called the Family Friendly Workplace Act. Sounds festive, doesn’t it? You picture balloons and happy music–sort of an IBM meets Chuck-E-Cheese kind of vibe.

But then, they’re proposing a federal law, so it’s probably more serious than that. Probably.

OK. Maybe it’s about tax credits for day care, or parental leave in the first weeks after birth. Family Friendly, right?

Nope. In the guise of providing workers with more flexible hours, the bill permits employers to pay time-and-a-half for overtime in what’s called “comp time.” That means if you work 10 hours of overtime this week, you get paid for 10 hours at your regular rate, with no extra money for the extra work. What you do get is credit later for five extra hours worked some other week.

Sounds OK so far. But unlike real overtime, the extra hours don’t count toward benefits, and you don’t get to choose when the “comp time” gets credited. Your boss does. So the flexibility isn’t for you and your family at all.

What this bill means is you can be worked 70 hours a week when things get busy, and given your “comp time” when things get slow.

Now that the social safety net has been shredded, this bill marks the beginning of an assault on the 40-hour work week.

That doesn’t help your family as much as, say, the Forbes family. Of course, Steve Forbes resembles that Arthur the Aardvark guy on PBS.

And he’s Family Friendly.

Maybe they’re guessing we can’t tell the difference.

SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT be able to confiscate your money, even if it admits you haven’t done anything wrong? The answer, according to the Justice Department, is yes.

Three years ago, a Los Angeles businessman who owns a couple of gas stations boarded a plane to visit his birthplace in the Middle East. He had with him over $350,000 in cash, which border patrol dogs sniffed out.

The security folks presumed he was some Trainspotting heroin mule–did you?–and so they nabbed the guy and the cash.

However, it turned out he was clean, and so was the money. The guy was simply going to repay the folks back home who gave him the business loan that got him started. So the Feds let him go. But they kept the cash.

How can they do that? Good question.

The Justice Department says that since there’s a limit on how much currency you can take across a U.S. border, then anyone over the limit automatically loses everything. Even if they haven’t committed a crime.

Two federal courts have already ruled that the Justice Department is nuts and has to give back the cash. The Supremes have the final say. Let’s hope they force the Justice Department to live up to its name.

THERE’S A WAY to drastically improve every public school in America that won’t cost a single dollar.

It won’t require any new equipment or a single day of training for the teachers. It’ll improve the students’ health at the same time.

And it’s in your bathroom right now.

Run! No, wait, come back. Too many Steven King novels. Sorry.

Here’s the Secret Stuff (do a drum roll with your hands on somebody you want to meet): soap and water.

One of the reasons American schools are struggling is that our school year is one of the shortest on Earth. Summer vacation was originally created so kids could go home and help on the farm, which hasn’t been necessary in a century, plus or minus. Which means until we lengthen the school year, keeping kids from missing the class days they do have is one of the most important things we can do.

Every parent knows that kids get sick a lot, and school is where they catch a lot of the bugs. And it turns out that colds, flu, bronchitis, and a lot of other illnesses are communicated more effectively through hand contact than through the air.

So, a new study has found that a daily schedule of mandatory hand-washings cut the number of student sick days by almost 40 percent. That’ll help a lot, especially since such illnesses occur most frequently in elementary school, where some kids fall behind for good as a result.

There’s zero to lose. The worst thing that happens is our next batch of high school grads will at least be able to bathe themselves.

Attention, cheap politicians: This is a no-brainer. Get out in front and drop this deal before your opponent does. You’ll never have a better chance to pound your fist and wave a flag and say dorky applause lines like “Clean up America’s schools . . . with good old soap and water!”

Of course, if our educational system does improve, you might wind up out of a job someday.

From the June 19-25, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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