Archives for posts with tag: National Partnership for Women & Families

Family5

Amended from my latest Human Needs Report article.

Most people will need to take time away from their job to deal with an illness or care for a family member at some point in their career – and yet only eleven percent of workers in the United States receive employer-paid family and medical leave. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), new legislation sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), would provide all eligible employees with as much as twelve weeks of paid leave. This leave could be used to deal with their own serious illness or health condition; the illness of a spouse, domestic partner, parent or child; the birth or adoption of a child; or the injury of a family member in the military or other emergency arising from their deployment.

Currently, less than 40 percent of American workers are eligible for an employer-provided temporary disability program. Due to this, as well as the fact that so few American workers are eligible for employer-paid family leave, many people are forced to make an impossible choice: take unpaid leave to care for a sick loved one (or see to their own care) or continue to work to earn the money they need to keep their families afloat. The FAMILY Act would provide working families with a better option, believe advocacy groups like the National Partnership for Women & Families.

On Friday, September 27 Senator Gillibrand stated her support for the bill in a Huffington Post article. She made the case that the FAMILY Act is desperately needed in today’s changing economy, in which forty percent of households with minor children have a woman as the primary breadwinner. (Read more about women’s participation in the American workforce in this fact sheet from the National Women’s Law Center.)

Administered through the Social Security Administration, the FAMILY Act would insure workers for benefits equal to 66 percent of their monthly income (up to a capped monthly amount). Eligibility for the program would be determined by a worker’s eligibility for Social Security disability benefits.

The insurance program is paid for through payroll contributions from both employers and their workers, with an extremely low premium of two cents for every $10 in income. For most workers, this means less than $2.00/week.

Advocates are pushing for passage of the FAMILY Act as an improvement on 1993’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA requires businesses employing fifty or more workers to provide their employees with the option of taking up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for an infant less than one year of age, adopt a child, care for a sick family member, or tend to a personal illness.

Although the FMLA has protected millions of workers from losing their jobs, it only guarantees unpaid leave and fails to cover 40 percent of the US workforce. The FAMILY Act offers a much more comprehensive way of helping workers by providing millions of families as well as young, part-time and low wage workers with a much-needed safety net in times of great distress.

The legislation is expected to be introduced within the next few weeks, delayed temporarily because of the federal government shutdown. Advocates will continue to ramp up support for the bill in the coming weeks.

workingfamflexact

Photo via the Education and Workforce House Committee website

This week, the House passed the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013 (H.R. 1406), introduced by Representative Martha Roby (R-AL). The measure, passed by a vote of 223-204 along party lines, seeks to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (PL-75-718) to give private companies the ability to offer employees the choice of receiving regular paid time off instead of overtime pay for hours worked over the standard 40 hours per week. Currently, employees in blue-collar jobs get time and a half for overtime hours worked.

Rep. Roby is quoted in the Huffington Post as saying, “This is about helping working moms and dads, providing the ability to commit time at home.” She and other Congressional Republicans have led a PR campaign touting the bill as worker- and family-friendly, but workers’ rights advocates and Democrats in Congress hold a different view.

Progressive advocates believe that H.R. 1406 is a “smoke-and-mirrors” measure that provides workers with a pay cut in order to give them paid time off without the guarantee of when or how they can use it. The bill also allows accrual of up to 160 hours of paid time off in a year. At year’s end, workers would be paid in cash for their unused comp time, but employers could defer payment of this sum for up to 13 weeks. Many advocates call this an interest-free loan for the company.

In another twist, there is alarm that the bill could help eliminate of the concept of paid leave time altogether. Political Director for the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America Union Chris Townsend told the Huffington Post that he worries that employers could ask their employees to “earn” their paid time off instead of automatically offering them a package of two weeks of vacation time plus sick days.

This letter from the National Partnership for Women and Families, signed by 163 organizations from across the nation, denounces H.R. 1406 for its false promises. William Samuel, Director of Government Affairs at AFL-CIO (one of the signing organizations), says “The AFL-CIO is vehemently opposed to the so-called Working Families Flexibility Act, which would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow employer-controlled compensatory time off to be substituted for paid overtime,” as quoted in CQ. “We urge you to vote against this legislation.”

From service groups to union leaders, the progressive community opposes this bill, which would actually encourage employers to request overtime work from employees by making it a cheaper alternative to paid overtime. Neither is H.R. 1406 a good alternative for low-wage workers because it reduces their take-home pay, money which many low-income families rely on to make ends meet.

A Statement of Administration Policy released Monday announced that President Obama’s senior advisers would recommend he veto H.R. 1406 if it came to his desk. There is little chance that will ever come to pass, however. Passage of the bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate looks highly dubious, as Democrats are almost unanimously opposed to the measure and have struck down similar bills twice in the past. Still, Republicans may seek to bring the bill to a vote in the Senate.