THE BLOG
01/11/2007 05:34 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Family Leave in the USA - Tell Your Story!


Got tennis shoes?

A self-described "mom in tennis shoes," who also happened to be a U.S. Senator, helped pass the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) back in 1993. This law has been a real life-saver for tens of thousands of families. It allows people who work for companies with fifty or more workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a new baby, or to care for a family member or themselves when facing a serious health issue.

Now the FMLA, even though it's unpaid leave and only applies to those who work for bigger companies, is at real risk of being scaled back when it actually should be expanded.As you may know, the current law is actually quite weak in comparison to the rest of the world.A Harvard study of 168 countries found that only 4 don't offer some form of paid leave for new mothers--Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, Lesotho, and the United States of America.

THE LOWDOWN: After years of corporate opposition, the U.S. Department of Labor is now seeking comments on the FMLA as it reviews the law. The FMLA could be scaled back if supportive citizen comments aren't plentiful. We need you to put your tennis shoes on for a "volley" of typing in support of the FMLA.

TELLTHE DEPARTMENT OF LABOR TO RETAIN &EXPAND THE FMLA: Submit your comments via e-mail to whdcomments@dol.gov:

*And, after you've sent in your comments to the Department of Labor, please also post your comments and share any stories here. Have you ever needed to take time off for family responsibilities? Did you have paid leave? What happened? Do tell!

MAKE A DIFFERENCE: Get inspired by Yvonne and Ken, two truly amazing activists (see their picture and story in the p.s. of this email). We need as many mothers--and those who have mothers--to let the Department of Labor know the FMLA is good policy for families and businesses. Share your support for the FMLA, and any personal experiences, with the Department of Labor. Tell them the FMLA is a true success story that should be retained and expanded, not scaled back. Instead of reviewing a program which is already working well,the Department of Labor should be putting our energy into expanding the FMLA to cover more workers, and into making paid family and medical leave available to all.

SOME POINTS TO TALK ABOUT: Want to support the FMLA, but not quite sure what to say? The National Partnership for Women & Families has terrific detailed information available for you to check out. And, we at MomsRising have some talking points of our own to share:

- The FMLA is a good start, but we can do better. The ability for parents to take leave without fear of loosing their job is important. That said, "Paid leave significantly decreases infant mortality, while other leave has no significant effect. This suggests that if leave is provided without adequate payment and job protection, parental leave-taking behavior may not be very responsive.... As a result, other leave does not have a significant effect on improving infant health," notes an Economic Journal report. In other words, it's paid family leave that makes the big difference.

- Instead of reviewing a program which is already working well, the Department of Labor should be putting energy into expanding the FMLA to cover more workers (only 46.5% of private sector workers are currently covered under the law because it only applies to those who work in companies with 50 or more employees), and into making paid family and medical leave available to all.

*A special note about a common misconception regarding who pays for paid family leave: Paid leave need not be a burden for business. In California, the only state with paid family leave, the funding for paid leave comes from a small employee paycheck deduction, not out of the pocket of businesses.

YOUR SUPPORT & COMMENTS ARE NEEDED: Please send in a note of support for the FMLA today to the Department of Labor at whdcomments@dol.gov (And then also cross-post your comment and any stories on the MomsRising blog).

This issue impacts real people on a daily basis. Scroll down to the end of this email for an excerpt of Selena's story from the Motherhood Manifesto. Selena had to go back to work just days after giving birth, while her premature son was still hospitalized, because she didn't have access to paid family leave.

Here's to making 2007 the Year of the Family! - The MomsRising Team

p.s. Meet Yvonne and Ken, two truly inspiring activists (see picture below). Yvonne and Ken are wearing their MomsRising.org t-shirts every day until a Paid Family Leave law passes in Washington State (there isn't a federal PAID Family and Medical Leave law yet, and California is the only state that has a Paid Family Leave law so far). Read more about Yvonne and Ken on the MomsRising homepage blog

Yvonne and Ken

INSPIRINGACTIVISTS: Yvonne and Ken are wearing their MomsRising.org t-shirts every day until a Paid Family Leave law passes in Washington State (there isn't a federal PAID Family and Medical Leave law yet, and California is the only place that has a statePaid Family Leave law so far). Read more aboutYvonne and Kenon the MomsRising homepage blog.

* * *

--Excerpt from The Motherhood Manifesto, Chapter 2: Maternity & Paternity Leave (Paid Family Leave). You can read all of this chapter online for free here.

The OB put Selena on a fetal monitor, found out she really was in labor, and then tried unsuccessfully with several different medications to stop the early labor. Selena's baby boy, Connor, was born six weeks early the next morning.
Their baby was rushed out of the room and up to the Neonatal Intensive Care unit, Selena's husband rushed up with him, and Selena found herself alone in a hospital bed realizing that she was going to go home well before her baby. She had a tough decision to make.

After their son stabilized, Selena's husband James came back down to her room. They had another difficult talk about finances and Selena's leave from work. They couldn't afford for her to take more time off than the couple of weeks originally planned, but both wanted Selena to have the most time possible to bond with her son. With her son stable in the hospital, but not knowing how long until he could come home, the choice was between Selena taking time off when he was in the hospital or waiting to take time off when the baby was released from the hospital and could come home. "There was no way we could afford for me to take off more than we planned," recalls Selena.

They made a difficult decision: They decided it would be best if she waited to take time off until the baby came home. So after Selena had the baby on Thursday, she was released from the hospital Friday, and was back at her desk on Monday morning. "It was the hardest two and a half weeks of my life," she says recalling the ache of being away from her newborn son and the rigorous family schedule at that time.

Selena shares a fairly common experience with new mothers across America--one of financial difficulties and time stretched too thin with the birth of a child. This experience isn't as common in other nations. In fact, the United States is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn't have paid leave other than Australia (which does give a full year of guaranteed unpaid leave to all women, compared with the only twelve weeks of unpaid leave given to those who work for companies with more than fifty employees in the U.S.). A full 163 countries give women paid leave with the birth of a child. Fathers often get paid leave in other countries as well--forty-five countries give fathers a right to paid parental leave...