Union Members Urged to Help Save FMLA Protections

Deadline for Objecting to New Rules is Friday, April 11

April 8, 2008

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Time is running out for union members to voice objections to new regulations proposed by the Department of Labor that would undermine employees’ medical privacy protections and make it more difficult for workers to exercise their rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

What Wal-Mart Wants
Some employers are encouraging the Department of Labor (DOL) to embrace tougher rules.

A Wal-Mart Human Resources Manager urged the department to: 

“1) Make clear that medical facts including information on symptoms, diagnosis, hospitalization, doctor visits, prescribed medication, and referrals for evaluation or treatment or other regimen of continuing treatment ’must’ be provided, as opposed to ‘may’ be provided. 

“2) Make clear in the instructions to the health care provider that responses such as ’lifetime, unknown or indeterminate’ will not be sufficient, as opposed to ’may’ not be sufficient to establish FMLA coverage.”

Wal-Mart’s manager also called for increasing the minimum increment of time for which FMLA leave can be used from two hours to four, and requiring workers using FMLA leave to see — and pay for — a doctor to recertify life-long medical conditions four times a year, instead of twice a year, as proposed, or once a year, the current practice. 

Among other changes, the proposed FMLA regulations would require workers to provide more proof of illness; to present such documentation more often; and to relinquish FMLA information to non-medical personnel. If applied, the new rules also would allow management personnel to contact workers’ medical providers.

The draft FMLA rules were made available for a 60-day public comment period on Feb. 11. Under the Administrative Procedure Act, Department of Labor officials must take comments submitted by concerned citizens and organizations “into account” before they issue final regulatory changes. April 11 is the last day comments will be accepted. Revised FMLA rules could be finalized by the end of the year. 

“The Family and Medical Leave Act is one of the most important pro-worker, pro-family laws ever enacted,” said APWU President William Burrus. “I urge every APWU member to register their objections to this despicable attempt by anti-worker employers to undermine the FMLA before the comment period expires.”

FMLA law requires employers to grant eligible employees up to 12 work-weeks 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, to care for a newborn child, or for adopting a child or caring for a foster child. Unions fought hard for more than a decade to pass the FMLA legislation, which was finally signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

Preserving FMLA protections remains a top legislative priority for the APWU because anti-worker employers have been trying to undermine the act since the Bush Administration took office, Burrus noted. “We take this very seriously,” he told union members on March 6. “Due to the limited time to comment, we must make a swift and strong response.” 

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