This blog post originally appeared at the Coalition of Labor Union Women.
It is hard to believe that 20 years have passed since the Family and Medical Leave Act became law. The Coalition of Labor Union Women was an active proponent for years, and passage of family and medical leave was a critical issue that drew us to call for The American Family Celebration that took place in Washington, DC on May 14, 1988.
It united a groundswell of support among religious, civil rights, women's, labor and children's groups in the call for a national family policy. The celebration was initiated by CLUW and had 162 financial and logistical sponsors. "The time is now," CLUW’s (then) President Joyce Miller told the crowd of 50,000. "The polls have shown it, and it doesn’t matter if you're a Democrat or a Republican. The American people want the candidates to direct themselves to these kinds of issues. We are here to demand a family policy in the U.S. that recognizes the revolution that has changed the American family."
We celebrate FMLA's passage and know that the 100 million times it has been used attests to its success. I know, I have used it too, and have been grateful that it was there. Certainly being guaranteed your job upon return to work and having your health insurance covered is wonderful. But even though its passage was a landmark victory, it is only a first step in addressing the family needs of the American worker and maybe now is a time for another American Family Celebration to call for what is still unfinished. Because it is unpaid leave now, those who can't afford to be without a paycheck have to weigh what is most important -- caring for oneself or a sick family member or a new baby or getting a paycheck so their family can eat. Or the LGBTQ community – are they not a part of the American family? Yet they are not covered. And all the other workers who have been left out –- part time workers, or those who have not been at a company long enough to have coverage, or who work for a small company that does not fall under the law (just to name a few omissions).
It is time that these holes be fixed –- these are real people with real needs. And how about all those minimum wage workers (women make up 2/3rds of them) who live paycheck-to-paycheck -– many in threat of losing their job if they take off work -- so show up to work sick.
Increasing the minimum wage and passing the Healthy Families Act, federal legislation that would guarantee paid leave for a minimum number of days, are steps in the right direction. And, by the way, if you are lucky enough to be in a unionized work place you have a much greater chance of having pay when you are on leave and through collective bargaining can negotiate about family and work issues.
So congratulations to us all for getting FMLA passed and let’s see what we can accomplish so we don’t have to wait another 20 years for those workers who are still in need.