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By David G. Taylor September 30, 2011

Family and Medical Leave Act expansion a no-go in Congress

President Barack Obama began his term with significant union support due to the many promises that he made about expanding workers' rights and benefits. Among these was Obama's pledge to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA).

The law, passed in the early days of the Clinton administration, requires that employers with 50 workers or more allow their employees to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave each year for a serious health condition, pregnancy, or caring for an ill family member. The law is designed to ensure employees cannot be terminated or reprimanded for taking leave for emergency or medical reasons.

During his 2008 presidential campaign Obama promised to expand the the act to cover more Americans by increasing the number of businesses that are fall under the law's purview. He planned to accomplish this by reducing the threshold from employers with 50 or more workers to those with 25 or more.

Representative Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., is particularly committed to the law's expansion and has submitted a bill entitled the Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act on multiple occasions, with the most recent being in April 2011. The bill would fulfill President Obama's promise and also expand qualifying reasons for leave to include activities such as parent-teacher conferences. Previous versions of the bill died in committee, including a 2009 version that Rep. Maloney introduced in a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. Given that the bill could not pass in such a favorable environment indicates that it has little chance of becoming law in the present Republican-controlled House. In addition, no comparable legislation currently exists in the Senate.

In our previous update we held off rating this promise Stalled because at the time there was a possibility that same of the provisions could have found their way into other legislation. That approach now looks unlikely.

Given Republican control of the House, we find it highly unlikely that the Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act will become law in the foreseeable future. Since President Obama cannot lower the threshold on his own, his hands are effectively tied in expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act. As a result we rate this Promise Broken.

Our Sources

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson November 4, 2009

Lawmakers push bill to require smaller companies to provide family and medical leave

House lawmakers have introduced a bill that would make companies with 25 or more workers comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act — not just companies with at least 50 employees, as current law dictates.
Generally, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 allows employees to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to have a baby, take care of a newborn, adopt a child, care for an ill family member or to recover from a serious health condition. Currently, full-time workers in businesses with at least 50 employees qualify, as do those in public-sector jobs, as long as they have worked for the employer for at least a year and spent 1,250 hours on the job within the prior 12 months.
The FMLA Enhancement Act, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., would lower the threshold to 25 employees. Maloney's bill would also allow workers to use FMLA time to attend school events such as parent-teacher conferences for their children or grandchildren.
The bill has been referred to a House subcommittee but has not yet been acted upon. Given the crowded congressional agenda, it's not clear when the measure will be taken up. By early November 2009, Maloney's bill had attracted 13 co-sponsors, all Democrats — a small fraction of the 113 co-sponsors who signed on to the Healthy Families Act, a higher-profile bill that would allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. Maloney's bill could also attract the opposition of business groups, who argue that the Healthy Families Act could harm small businesses that are already struggling in the current recession. And there is no Senate version yet.
Given all of this, we're tempted to call the promise Stalled. However, portions of the bill could easily be grafted on to the Healthy Families Act, which has a better chance of being taken up by Congress, although probably not until 2010. Because of this scenario, we'll rate this one In the Works.

Our Sources

THOMAS, bill information page for H.R. 824, accessed Nov. 3, 2009

Department of Labor, Family and Medical Leave Act overview page , accessed Nov. 3, 2009

National Partnership for Women and Families, legislative agenda for the 111th Congress, Aug 7, 2009 (provided by the group)

E-mail interview with Sharyn Tejani, senior policy council for the National Partnership for Women and Families, Nov. 3, 2009

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