• United States

Election season plays, Part 1

Aug 17, 20043 mins

* President Bush calls for workplace flexibility before 2010, please

In this late summer stretch, caught between conventions, curious announcements are popping up.

Just after I filed last week’s column on Chai Feldblum’s efforts, President Bush issued a news release urging Congress to “pass legislation giving American workers more options to help families better juggle the demands of work and home through comp-time and flex-time” (see editorial link below).

Uncanny. Actually, he warms up like this: “These are exciting times for our country. It’s a time of amazing change. The economy is changing. The world is changing. We need to make sure government changes with the times and to work for America’s working families.”

I don’t quite follow the last part, but the stumping makes me feel good, which is all that matters.

Bush flashed some compelling stats:

* In 2002, women accounted for more than  47% of the labor force, up from 29% in 1950. 

* In 2002, the labor force participation rate for married mothers with children under 6 was more than 63%, up from 11% in 1950. 

* In 2002, over 71% of all mothers with children under 18 worked. 

* In 2002, 18.4 million married families with children, almost 68%, had both parents working. In more than 55% of these families, the women were working full-time, year-round.

Then the president called on Congress to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to give private-sector employees the option to choose comp time over overtime pay, and the ability to “flex” their schedules over a pay period – benefits government employees already enjoy, he says. To protect employees, the program should be voluntary and honor collective bargaining agreements. Oh, he even toots the telework horn a bit at the bottom, what the heck? (see editorial link below)

So what about Feldblum? Should she and her team at Workplace Flexibility 2010 just pack up and go back to Georgetown?

Probably not. Here’s her e-mail response, edited for length. (Note, she is not on vacation.)

“It’s great that President Bush is raising the issue of workplace flexibility and proposing some ideas. Similarly, I think it’s great that Sen. John Kerry is acknowledging the squeeze on working families and proposing (as he did in his acceptance speech) greater governmental financial support for after-school care.

”But both sets of ideas reach only small pieces of the overall problem – which is why we’re trying to bring the bigger picture into focus.

”The two changes in the law that President Bush is proposing have been proposed for the last 10 years. They have never passed Congress. The year Bush came into office (2001), the Republicans again tried to pass such a bill (having gained a Republican House, Senate and White House) – but they were again stymied by opposition from the unions.

“The challenge is for both campaigns to acknowledge that this problem is complex, requires commitment from both parties, and [the analysis of] a range of laws. Obviously, this is a hard acknowledgement to get during a presidential campaign – but at least Workplace Flexibility 2010 can call for it!”