The Family and Medical Leave Act is the only American legislation that warranted a phone call from the Department of Labor directly to my cell phone! A company that I worked for a few years’ back did a good deal of contract work and one of the ‘temporary’ employees, who was scheduled to end her contract period, decided that she was eligible for an FMLA claim due to the fact that her mother was ill.
It was necessary to inform the temporary employee of the reality of her situation. All of the variables involved with complying with the FMLA were out of the picture for a number of reasons…The company did not have 50 employees on payroll within 75 miles of the corporate office at the time she requested the FMLA and being a temporary employee, she had been informed at the beginning of her contract the length of time the company would have need of her services. Little did the temporary employee realize that even if she did qualify (which she didn’t), she would not have been paid for the time she wanted to utilize to watch her mother. She decided to contact the DOL and while speaking with them, proceeded to give the representative from the DOL my cell phone number in lieu of the office number. Imagine the representative’s surprise when she learned that she had reached me on my personal cell phone!!!
Regardless, I took the time that the DOL representative needed and explained the situation to her. I was required to submit a report to the DOL which showed the company’s lack of obligation to comply with the FMLA. The obligations under the FMLA were fulfilled properly probably due to the fact that I knew what to do and how to handle it in the long run.
The end of the story is very well known…the FMLA passed with bipartisan support in January 1993 and was signed into law by President William Clinton as the first accomplishment of his new administration. It was a very historic day for women and families across the country. What is not widely known is the journey it took during those nine years. The road to passage, as with any social justice type of legislation, was long and arduous. But, they never let up and, in the end, prevailed.
Did you know that the FMLA was introduced to Congress every year from 1984 to 1992 and was blocked repeatedly by well-funded opponents? Ronald Reagan was President the first time it was introduced. It never got to his desk; it was voted down each year until 1991….when it was passed by Congress and vetoed by President George H.W. Bush….the same thing occurred in 1992…Congress passed it but it was vetoed again by the sitting President.
There is not a part of me that can understand how anyone could turn their back on this type of legislation….I use to wonder how people could live with themselves or sleep at night…but they do…and they do it easily….I don’t have a bone in my body that can readily harm another human being or does not want everyone to have equal opportunities, however, as I age, I have learned to understand that money is a very, very powerful motivator for both good and evil...I'm sure that there are valid, respectable reasons that individuals/businesses had for opposition to this legislation....I cannot criticize George H.W. Bush much, though…he signed the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) into law (please see BLOG on ADA dated 1/8/15 and 1/11/15).
Regardless, once Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination amendments in 1978, the feminist legal community was quite aware that traditional maternity-leave policies were inadequate. If there were any laws, they were state or employer specific; there was nothing on a national policy level. The United States stood alone among industrialized nations in not guaranteeing women their jobs after they had babies, maternity-only leave policies would cause some to question issues of equality for which we had fought quite dearly and, finally, the programs in place did not address women’s and men’s needs for family leave beyond periods of childbirth-related disabilities.
In 1984, when the FMLA was first drafted, Ronald Reagan was just completing his first term and the Senate was under Republican control. The Women’s Legal Defense Fund was aware that there was no chance of the bill’s passage during that Congress, therefore the strategy was to raise it as an issue and to educate members of Congress and the public about it. It took a good deal of work for, initially, even ‘liberal’ unions were against it…some of them classifying it as a ‘girl’ bill. This attitude was slowly overcome through the organizing efforts of the women within the trade union movement. By 1991, the FMLA had become one of the top two (2) or three (3) demands that the labor movement presented to Congress.
Once the Legal Defense Fund changed its name to the National Partnership for Women & Families, the organization began to garner support by presentations, fundraising, etc.…some of the main proponents, initially, were several unions and foundations and the AARP. The ultimate passage was due to the signing on of the US Catholic Conference. At first, they were against the bill because they are generally against strong, progressive women….but, the Catholic Church was compelled to sign on due to the fact and focus of how mothers of new babies are treated in the United States…a focus of the Catholic Church was to provide as many incentives as possible for women to choose not to abort. A very peculiar position for pro-choice individuals to be in…agreeing with the Catholic Church on the position of reproductive rites…however, the pro-choice movement, much to most conservative’s chagrin, is exactly that…pro choice.
By 1991, a vast coalition had been formed consisting of but not limited to: Business and Professional Women of USA and the League of Women Voters of US; the National PTA and the Children’s Defense Fund; organized labor unions ranging from Service Employees International to the NEA and United Steel Workers; seniors, including AARP and the National Senior Citizens Council; disabled individuals, including the Epilepsy Foundation and National Association of the Blind; health professionals, religious organizations and progressive businesses….a general across the board coalition. This group was very diverse but motivated by some combination of ideology, politics and a desire to help its members.
FMLA proponents had to overcome the strong undercurrent running through American public opinion at the time that women should not work outside the home when they have children (which is far, far different that the general opinion at the time in other industrialized nations….it was considered to be a woman’s choice….all the way around). The coalition did this by showing the support of mothers/fathers caring for their babies at home. It also handled the message of the working-mother issue by showing the need for adult sons/daughters to have leave time to care for their aging parents….in the long run, their research showed that the average American was more likely to vote for a member of Congress who favored the FMLA.
Once the FMLA passed Congress, as stated earlier in this post, George H.W. Bush vetoed the bill on two (2) occasions….and prevented the bill from becoming law for three (3) additional years. It meant that when it was finally ready for passage, the business representatives had no significant hand in shaping the bill that finally became law, and it ultimately did have an impact on the 1992 Presidential election. By this time, a few members of Congress were vibrantly active in support of this legislation….from both the Democrats and the Republicans.
Isn’t it wonderful that, ultimately, this legislations’ largest opponents….business and the Bush White House….learned to accept this bill as the law of the land and everyone now lives by its rules….other than a few small business owners that will break the rules under any and/all circumstances…
Coming this weekend, I’ll give a breakdown of who is covered by the law and what is required by the law….this is all in preparation for the Obama administration’s proposal for PAID maternity leave….something that not only industrialized nations do but there are very few nations in the world that do not….pay for maternity leave, that is.
If you have any questions on the history of the FMLA or its impact on your business as an employer or you as an employee, please contact me, Rosanne Bennett at 484-798-1236 or firstname.lastname@example.org