FMLA: Labor Secretary Deems Law A Success
Yesterday marked the fifth anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which has enabled more than 12 million workers to take up to 12 weeks off of work in the event of personal illness, to care for sick parents, spouses and children, or for the birth or adoption of a baby. In a teleconference, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman told journalists, "No worker should have to choose between the job they need and the family they love" (Christman, Arizona Daily Star, 8/6). Approximately 70% of the work force is eligible for FMLA. Workers must be employed by "public agencies or private employers who employ 50 or more workers," and must have worked for at least one year and for at least 1,250 hours over the last 12 months. According to Labor Department data released yesterday, through June 30, 58% of those utilizing the FMLA were women, and the "employees most likely to have taken family leaves earned between $20,000 and $30,000 a year and were from 25 to 34 years old." Sixty percent of leaves were for personal health problems.
The Kansas City Star reports Herman has backed President Clinton's plan to expand FMLA to include an additional 24 hours per year so that parents can "attend parent-teacher conferences, PTA meetings or other events associated with their children's education" (Stafford, 8/5). Herman cited a Family and Work Institute study that showed 84% of employers "said the benefits of the law outweigh the costs," yet many employers feel the law is overly complex and are wary of expanded benefits. However, "supporters of the law ... contend that it doesn't go far enough," and are pushing for expanded eligibility and paid leave. Jamie Court, spokesperson for Consumers for Quality Care, said, "There's [a] huge bar for people who can't afford to take unpaid time off" (Appleby, Contra Costa Times, 8/6).
First Lady Lauds Law
In her Talking It Over column, Hillary Rodham Clinton argues that FMLA is "about respecting the rights and responsibilities of all Americans as they struggle to balance work and family. ... Now that we've seen how important this law has been for America's workers, why not extend its reach? Why exclude those who work in smaller companies?" The first lady adds, "Shouldn't we, at the same time, recognize the importance of routine commitments such as parent-teacher