Friday, September 28, 2007

Sen. Dodd introduces Family Leave Insurance Act for 8 weeks paid family leave

This morning, Tory Johnson ran a story on ABC “Good Morning America,” specifically “Taking the Fight for Family and Medical Leave Act to Washington: Ways to Get Your Voice Heard on Paid Leave from Work Policies,” here. A number of women in blue “Women at Work” t-shirts joined in the fun. Actually, the story refers to 2008 Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Christopher Dodd ‘s Family Leave Insurance Act of 2007, introduced in June. The bill would essentially provide paid leave under terms similar to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, (S 1681 in which provided only unpaid leave. There are restrictions, such as a length of time someone must have worked. Dodd has the text of the bill at his website. Another story is from Women Employed, here.

The provision would apply for pregnancy or maternity leave (paternity isn’t as clear), sick children, or especially eldercare. Had the bill been in effect in 1999, it could have helped me then. It does not appear to require that the beneficiaries be married; it would benefit single parents. I think we can imagine here what the religious right would argue on that, and that gets quickly to the whole question of marriage as an institution everyone “subsidizes.” I’ve talked about that elsewhere and will again, but that seems off track on the actual bill as written. I must add that it is psychologically much hard to "ask" for time off for anyone else's care (a parents) if one did not have one's own children.

Dodd will try to make this look like a win-win proposition, as partnership of business, government and individuals. But there are obviously some questions.

The mathematical question is that, if you increase a burden on employers, there will be fewer jobs. Dodd answers this by talking about partnership. Many jobs, especially in information technology and sometimes many other areas, are short-term W-2 contract jobs for which this would not apply. It’s conceivable, it sounds, that in the future such contracts could become legally undesirable and contracting companies could push for more corp-to-corp arrangements, which could make reputation management of individual contractors an even bigger issue.

But the even more serious question has to do specifically with family responsibility. In fact, “family responsibility discrimination” has become a buzzword recently. In the workplace, if the bill passes, those with less family responsibility (and this often means the childless in practice, as with Eleanor Burkett’s book “The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless”) will work more for the same pay. That’s just mathematical logic, Dodd notwithstanding. You have to ask, is this right? It is the women’s movement, and to a lesser extent the GLBT movement, that has stressed “equal pay for equal work.” A bit of a paradox. Would it benefit women more than men in the workplace?

In fact, in salaried positions, people are often on-call and fix emergency problems without compensation. Should the childless do more of this? In the 1980s this was not a problem where I worked because everyone was strictly responsible for his own system. In the 1990s, on another job, it crept in as an issue, and sometimes caused resentment.

The whole structure of jobs and the workplace can be affected. But we have similar questions with health insurance. (I know what Michael Moore says.) Yet, in Europe and British Commonwealth nations there is paid family leave with little social discord over family responsibility. Maybe it helps that those countries are more hospitable to gay marriage and even gay adoption. These things are all connected. It is still remarkable that the United States seems to be the only major democracy without some mandated paid family leave, according to the ABC story this morning.

Continuation -- on my main blog Oct. 3, link.

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