Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Bush Attacks FMLA

First they went after overtime, then the right to join a union. Now Bush and the corporate elite are going after FMLA. More than 50 million American have used FMLA, 40 percent of them are men.

From the Boston Globe

Proposed changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act by the Bush administration have alarmed workplace advocates.

Enacted in 1993, the law allows US employees at companies with 50 or more workers to take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave for family or medical matters like taking care of a newborn, or helping an ill relative, parent or spouse.

However, proposed changes in the rules governing the law have led to protests by some groups. The changes focus on the definition of a serious illness under the law, as well as employers' requests for permission to contact doctors to check whether claims of a chronic illness are valid. Last week, opponents of the changes, which are due out this spring, protested during a press conference in Washington, D.C.

''Opponents would prefer not to have the FMLA at all,'' said Debra Ness, the president of the National Partnership for Women & Families in Washington. ''This opposition is just one way of rolling back protections and undermining the law or minimizing its availability to workers.''

She said companies would like to reduce the minimum amount of intermittent leave that a worker can take to four hours. Ness believes this could harm people who only need to be away an hour or two because they would no longer be eligible for the leave.

Employers are also seeking to restrict the definition of a serious illness to a medical condition that requires at least 10 days recovery time. Ness objects.

''What if someone is struck by appendicitis and is ready to go back to work within a week?'' she said. ''Why should they be forced to stay out 10 days when they don't have to?''

Currently, workers can invoke the FMLA when seeking medical care for chronic conditions such as chemotherapy for some forms of cancer and kidney dialysis. They can also interrupt their workday to seek such treatments.

Companies want to change that. They've asked the Labor Department to tighten the law's definition of serious health conditions. Employers maintain some workers are using these short leaves to make up the sick days or vacation time they have already used. Companies also contend that some of the health conditions are minor, and do not require two or three days' off. Lastly, they argue the changes they are seeking would not affect workers' ability to take time off for serious maladies or to assist sick relatives.

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