The U.S. House will vote on legislation co-sponsored by Rep. John Kline this week that could make a significant change to how hourly workers get paid.
Kline says the measure would allow people to have more flexibility in how they're compensated for working overtime. It's aimed at changing The Fair Labor Standards Act passed 75 years ago, in 1938.
The United States was still in the Depression when Congress passed the law. World War II hadn't started yet. Unemployment was almost 20 percent. There was no minimum wage. Those lucky enough to have a job might have had to work as many as 10 hours a day, six days a week.
The act introduced a minimum wage and said if you worked more than 40 hours a week, your employer was required to pay overtime -- one and a half times your regular hourly pay.
But times have changed: A 2009 government study says 55 percent of the American workforce receives some overtime, though it's concentrated in industries such as manufacturing, construction and trucking.
Republicans on the House Education and Workforce Committee -- led by Kline -- say it's a different world compared to the 1930s: Some people would rather have flexibility in their hours instead of extra pay for working overtime. The bill they have introduced, called the Working Families Flexibility Act, would let workers convert their overtime into time off at the same rate of pay.
Kline says the law is aimed at the kind of employee who has kids to take to the doctor, or wants to take a longer vacation, but doesn't have the extra time off.
"This is something we can do to help those working families," he said, and emphasized that the program is strictly voluntary. "The employee and the employer have to have an agreement that they're going to do this."
Versions of this idea already apply to public sector workers. And the GOP has tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation like this before in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Kline argues the bill simply extends those rights to people who work in the private sector.
The bill is part of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's agenda to restore the GOP's tattered image with female voters who helped re-elect Obama last fall. To promote the legislation, Republicans have rolled out a serious of professionally produced, campaign-style videos.
The House Republican campaign committee has been running online ads against Democrats, including Minnesota's 7th District Rep. Collin Peterson, claiming that because they don't support the bill, they're not standing up for working mothers.
Democrats think it's deeply controversial and none has signed on as a sponsor.
"All the flexibility is for the benefit of employers. For workers, this is a pay cut, plain and simple," said Bill Samuel, the government affairs director for the AFL-CIO labor union.
The union is one of the Democrats' closest allies. Samuel added that workers won't necessarily be able to use their comp time when they want to. He says if this bill were to pass, it would lead to the end of overtime pay and a weakening of the 40-hour work week.
"All the incentives now are with the employer to offer overtime work to those who will accept comp time, which is unpaid," he said.
Other labor groups point to provisions in the bill that would require workers to hire a lawyer to sue if they've been coerced by their boss into accepting comp time.
The White House also said in a statement Monday that, "If the President were presented with this legislation in its current form, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill."
The bill "would not prevent employers from cutting the overtime hours and reducing the take‑home pay of employees who currently have the right to overtime compensation," the statement said. "The legislation does not provide sufficient protections for employees who may not want to receive compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay."
Kline disagrees and says workers will continue to get the same protections they already have.
But in a sign that this bill was meant to make a political point rather than reach Obama's desk, Kline conceded that he and his colleagues have not looked for supporters to push their bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
But he says passing it in the House will send a message: "The story is out there and we'll let those people who oppose it explain why they don't want to give this right to people in the private sector when it's been working for years in the public sector."
In other words, the 75-year-old labor law isn't likely to change for now, but could be a major partisan talking point in next year's election campaigns.