Bush Keeps Trying to Chip Away at Workers’ Rights

FMLA: Here We Go Again

March 28, 2008

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The headlines last July seemed to say it all: “Labor Department Study Affirms That FMLA Is Working as Intended.” So union activists were dismayed when seven months later the Department of Labor proposed sweeping new regulations for the FMLA. 

“Business as usual, that’s the only reasonable explanation,” said APWU Legislative Department Director Myke Reid of the more-recent news stories. “It seems like corporate America just won’t give up in its quest to strip workers of their rights. I guess this is just one more excuse to flex their muscles before the Bush administration leaves office.”

The proposed Family and Medical Leave Act regulations — issued on Feb. 11 — would require workers to provide more proof of illness; to present such documentation more often; and to relinquish medical information to non-medical personnel. If enacted, the new rules also would allow management personnel to contact workers’ medical providers.

In the foreword to the study released June 27, 2007, Assistant Secretary of Labor Victoria A. Lipnic noted that there had been 15,000 replies to the “Request For Information” in the December 2006 Federal Register. “The Department is pleased to observe that, in the vast majority of cases, the FMLA is working as intended,” Lipnic wrote.

“So how do we explain a new request-for-information? It’s what Big Business wants,” Reid said. “If these regulations were to be adopted, it would be far more difficult for workers to use their FMLA leave. Yet we were told seven months ago by the Labor Department itself that Family and Medical Leave is ‘good for workers and their families, is in the public interest, and is good workplace policy. ’ ” 

“That original request for FMLA information caused concern among unions because the Department of Labor in the past has used its regulatory authority to weaken workers’ rights,” Reid added. “The 15,000 responses clearly were the basis for the report last summer. Then, a half-year later, it’s ‘here we go again’ with another attempt to undermine FLMA.”

The 60-day “public comment” period on the latest proposals ends April 11. APWU President William Burrus has issued a call to action, asking the union’s officers and activists to renew the battle of words over the proposed new regulations by submitting comments to the Federal Register.

“The FMLA is the one of the most important pro-worker, pro-family laws in recent memory,” Burrus said in early March. “It has worked well for both employers and employees. We must derail any attempt to dilute its effectiveness.

“Unions and other parties submitted thousands of statements in support of this law early in 2007,” he said. “We were pleased that the report last June recognized that the FMLA is accomplishing its goal of giving workers the ability to fulfill family responsibilities without jeopardizing their jobs.” 

The FMLA was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. It requires employers to grant eligible employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period due to a serious health condition, to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or to care for children just added to households, such as newborns. The FMLA applies to government agencies and most businesses that employ 50 or more workers.

The Labor Department is expected to publish final recommendations on the latest proposals before the end of the year. 

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