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President Barack Obama talks with former President Bill Clinton before an event in McLean, Va., Sunday, April 29, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Presidents Clinton and Obama
Former President Bill Clinton commemorates the 20th anniversary of signing the Family and Medical Leave Act in Clinton style, with some arithmetic and with eloquence and with an admonition that there's more to be done, in this op-ed.
Twenty years ago today, barely more than two weeks into my presidency, I stood in the White House Rose Garden to sign the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provided millions of Americans with the opportunity to take time off to care for a new child or sick relative. It was then and remains today the embodiment of my governing philosophy of empowerment through opportunity and responsibility. To this day, I receive more thanks from citizens for the FMLA than any other single piece of legislation I signed into law. Between 1991 and 1997, the percentage of full-time employees in large and medium-sized businesses taking maternity leave grew from 37 to 93 percent. By the time I had left office, 35 million Americans had taken leave, and estimates today suggest that number has grown to 100 million.

They all have a story, like the father who brought his cancer-stricken daughter on a White House tour. He told me she was very ill and probably wouldn’t make it, but the months he’d taken off from work to be with her were the most important months of his life. Or the flight attendant who told me about both her parents falling ill at the same time, with only her and her sister to take care of them. Without FMLA, they couldn’t have done it. She said, “All politicians talk about family values, but I think how your parents die is an important family value.”

Now, he concludes, it's time to do what he called for at the end of his administration, find "new ways to provide paid leave to those workers who need to take off but cannot afford to do so." He's absolutely right. The U.S. is woefully lagging behind the rest of the developed world in providing paid leave to its workforce. In face, we're the only one of 16 high-income nations that doesn't mandate paid leave. We also have the shortest amount of leave time covered: 12 weeks as opposed to the 162 weeks French and German workers can receive. There's also a huge chunk of the workforce—40 percent—that isn't even eligible for FMLA.

Twenty years of getting used to the idea of family and medical leave should be plenty, and now that the nation has seen that it hasn't crippled businesses, it's time to start pushing for more. It's time to once again take on John Boeher and the other 18 Republicans who voted against FMLA the first time around and are still in office. The Republicans are trying to rebrand the party as family friendly. It would be the perfect time to make them prove it.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 08:12 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos Labor and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (15+ / 0-)

    "There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning." —Warren Buffett

    by Joan McCarter on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 08:12:59 AM PST

  •  Paternity leave (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    irishwitch, DSPS owl

    It's about time we start discussing extending the same rights to fathers.

  •  Kabuki Theater 2.0? (3+ / 0-)

    Now, he concludes, it's time to do what he called for at the end of his administration, find "new ways to provide paid leave to those workers who need to take off but cannot afford to do so."

    Only problem that I have with this statement is that former President Clinton is "up to his eyeballs" in support of the Bowles-Simpson recommendations.  See Media Advisory from 2011.

    Media Advisory

    PETERSON FOUNDATION TO CONVENE 3RD ANNUAL FISCAL SUMMIT IN WASHINGTON ON MAY 15

    Participants to include President Bill Clinton, Speaker of the House John Boehner, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, Senator Rob Portman, Congressman Paul Ryan, Congressman Chris Van Hollen, and National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Co-Chair Alan Simpson.

    So, how is it you're "in bed with Alan Simpson," who's leading the charge to eviscerate the Social Safety Net, but in support of expanded Family Leave Act benefits?

    2016 electoral politics, maybe?  Yeah, just more Kabuki Theater.

    Mollie

    "Only he who can see the invisible, can do the impossible." --Frank L. Gaines

    "If a dog won’t come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.” -- Woodrow Wilson

    by musiccitymollie on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 10:08:57 AM PST

    •  P.S. We need Dem leaders to lead on this (0+ / 0-)

      issue who have "no conflict of interests."

      Now, more than ever, we desperately need this benefit expanded.  Especially, considering the fact that as of the 2010 Census, we know that "1 out of 2 Americans are Poor or Low Income."  Here's the link.

      As long as the conversation continues to dwell on "fiscal austerity," broaching this subject is really pointless, until and unless you're willing to challenge the leadership of both parties.

      That's
      what I'm waiting to see.

      Update: President Obama just said in his press conference, that he has proposed "sensible reforms to Medicare and other social insurance programs."  Here we go again . . .

      Mollie

      "Only he who can see the invisible, can do the impossible." --Frank L. Gaines

      "If a dog won’t come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.” -- Woodrow Wilson

      by musiccitymollie on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 10:23:19 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Fathers need to be included in this leave, but (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    thankgodforairamerica

    it is good it has been started now by these Democrats.  The GOP is just a bunch of skunks, there is no good way to describe them on these issues.  And they will rebrand themselves as the family party?  Is that like the fox rebanding himself as a vegetarian now and again.

  •  OT - I just love to think of all the wingnut heads (3+ / 0-)

    that would explode just seeing that pic of their two worst nightmares.

    Discussing helping women.

    And babies.

    And working people.

    Now back to useful discourse.

    The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

    by xxdr zombiexx on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 05:28:39 PM PST

  •  i just got the fmla poster up at work- (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bekosiluvu, musiccitymollie, LNK

    a lot of workers don't know what fmla is or that it applies to them.

    my boss didn't have any of the wage and labor standard posters up- just one on workers compensation in an inconspicuous spot.

    Now, he concludes, it's time to do what he called for at the end of his administration, find "new ways to provide paid leave to those workers who need to take off but cannot afford to do so." He's absolutely right.
    amen.

    my state is the first to guarantee paid sick leave to service employees who work for a comapny w/ 50+ employees. we've got to expand this to all americans.

    "...i also also want a legally binding apology." -George Rockwell

    by thankgodforairamerica on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 05:49:43 PM PST

  •  Family Values (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bekosiluvu, Batya the Toon

    The FMLA should be amended to do three things: (1) require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees, (2) expand parental and adoption leave from 12 weeks to at least six months of paid leave, and (3) fix the Bush era regulations that were enacted by the Department of Labor to make the regulations more employer friendly.  

    These are simple, concrete actions that would actually have a direct benefit to millions of families. Any self proclaimed family values politician would have a heck of a time explaining their opposition in human terms.

    •  The support period for "terminal" family members (0+ / 0-)

      should also be expanded.

      Mollie

      "Only he who can see the invisible, can do the impossible." --Frank L. Gaines

      "If a dog won’t come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.” -- Woodrow Wilson

      by musiccitymollie on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 07:46:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Agreed (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        musiccitymollie

        The federal statutes have already been amended to allow for more than 12 weeks in at least one situation, and could be amended here as well.  A few years back, family members who need to care for injured veterans were given 26 plus weeks of leave, albeit unpaid again and without requiring employers to provide continuous benefits for that entire period.

  •  12 weeks.. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bekosiluvu, musiccitymollie

    There is nothing that can replace the the time spent at the beginning of life (parents with their child), time spent with an ill person or end of life.  It is a human to human experience we share with each other.  It can be heartbreaking when you are constricted by not being able to get work time to spend with our loved ones.  Not enough sick days, personal days or vacation days or an employer telling you it is a bad time to take off and have to worry if your job or position will be there.

    There are times when an employee has situations where more than one person in their lives needs them and 12 weeks sometimes is just not enough leave.  The stress can be unbearable.

    Do not adjust your mind, there is a flaw in reality.

    by Shrew in Shrewsbury on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 05:58:18 PM PST

  •  Clinton style = (0+ / 0-)

    He took a half step and expects Obama to finish the job.

  •  MD General Assembly (0+ / 0-)

    Is looking to take up paid sick leave for all employees this session. You would earn 1 hour of sick leave for each 25 hours worked. It's not perfect, but its a huge step forward for people working in the service industry for minimum wage or near to it.

  •  God Bless Bill Clinton and the 103rd Congress (0+ / 0-)

    I have an FMLA story from just this last summer, when my mom needed spinal surgery.  Diary material.  Egg me on.  

    "We must close union offices, confiscate their money and put their leaders in prison. We must reduce workers salaries and take away their right to strike.” -Adolf Hitler, May 2, 1933

    by bekosiluvu on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 06:42:41 PM PST

  •  even federal employees (0+ / 0-)

    have crappy leave when it comes to things like, say, paid maternity leave.  Wait, what paid maternity leave?  Women who want to go out to spend time with a baby have to save vacation and sick time and are eligible for the leave donation program, which means that other people can donate their vacation days (not sick days) to that person for use.  Right. Except others don't have all that many vacation days to donate because who knows when they might need them if they have to go out on, say, short term disability, which also doesn't exist, at least in the VA where I work. The first three years at the VA, you earn 13 days of vacation per year and 13 days of sick leave.  I'll never forget, my second year on the job I fell and shattered my shoulder, requiring surgery.  I had already taken much of my meager vacation time and had had to use sick time for medical infusions I needed to stay healthy.  A few generous people donated me vacation days and I went back a week sooner than my doctor wanted me to so I wouldn't have to borrow even more time off and be in the time off hole for forever.  What stands out for me about that is, I saw Sicko the night before I went back to week while I was still not sleeping nights and still in a lot of pain...The contract in other countries made me even more bitter that I had to go back early. I'm always stunned because the myth is that government employees have such great benefits and, compared to the rest of the country, we probably do.  Yet, they suck.

  •  Thanks for diary. This is IMPORTANT (0+ / 0-)

    Can we tackle some Republican legislators and ask them which is more important--FAMILIES or the employers who oppose them when it comes to social legislation like this.

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