House Pushes Paid Family Leave

Categories: The Insider

Tracy Kearns’ husband, Dennis, died of a rare cancer in January 2018. From October 2017 to the day he passed, Tracy exhausted all her leave and had to rely on donated leave from her colleagues to get a paycheck because she couldn’t afford to take leave without pay.

“It's disheartening to hope there’ll be enough donations to pay bills and expenses when the main focus is fighting for the life of a spouse,” said the legal assistant at a Social Security Administration (SSA) office in Ohio.

Her situation did not stop there. Six months later, the human resources department told her that due to their clerical error, some of the donated leave was taken back. The adjustment put her in the negative for sick leave.

“Just something you don't want to worry about when still grieving - horrible situation all around. It would have lifted some of the weight off of our shoulders if paid family leave could have been available,” she added.

Tracy is hardly the only person forced to choose between her family and a paycheck. AFGE members flooded our inbox with heart-breaking stories like Tracy’s.

There’s a Veterans Affairs employee whose father is battling lung cancer and memory loss and cannot be left at home by himself. A Navy civilian employee who’s trying her best to take care of her autistic son and mother in law who’s fighting breast cancer. A USDA food inspector who’s caring for her mentally and physically impaired husband who can no longer handle everyday tasks. A border patrol agent whose daughter needs daily in-office therapy for her depth perception loss and other vision conditions.

Then there’s a Defense employee and disabled veteran who sometimes takes home less than half his salary because he misses work due to his service-related medical conditions. A TSA officer who had to go part-time and take a pay cut to take care of herself following surgery. A Defense civilian who was fighting breast cancer and decided to leave the government because her managers would not work with her when she needed to take leave for her cancer treatment appointments.

The list goes on.

We can and must do better

The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not guarantee workers paid family leave.

Some private-sector employers in the U.S. choose to provide paid parental leave, but that touches only about 13% of all private-sector workers. Federal employees do not have paid parental leave.

Under the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees in both the public and private sectors can take up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a newborn or an ill family member without fear of losing their jobs, but that leave is unpaid.

The U.S. government should lead by example. That’s why our union supports a paid family leave measure that has been added to the House version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. Even though NDAA is a defense spending bill, this provision would apply governmentwide. It would provide all federal employees with 12 weeks of paid family leave for reasons covered by the FMLA.

NDAA passed the House on July 12 with the paid family leave measure. The Senate version of the NDAA passed on June 27.

“Our union looks forward to working with members of the House and Senate conference committees to ensure the final legislation continues to support our invaluable and irreplaceable federal employees at DoD and across government,” said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr.

Under the House bill, federal employees can take paid family leave to:

  • Give birth and take care of a newborn
  • Adopt a child
  • Foster a child
  • Take care of a spouse, child, or parent who has a serious medical condition
  • Take care of themselves if they have a serious medical condition
  • Take care of an urgent need when they or a family member is detailed for covered duty in the armed forces.

“Paid family leave is a benefit to the workforce, the government and the nation. The U.S. government should be a model employer, and this bill will help take a big step forward allowing employees to appropriately care for themselves or their families without worrying about job security,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-Ny., as she offered the amendment.

The amendment’s language is similar to a stand-alone bill, the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, that Rep. Maloney introduced in March. Maloney’s bill has a companion bill in the Senate introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.

“Extending 12 weeks of paid leave to federal employees will help them better balance their work and home lives, and it will give agencies a needed advantage when recruiting and retaining workers to carry out critical missions on behalf of the country,” Cox added.

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