Celebrating FMLA in Rhode Island with Two Great ChampionsOctober 9, 2013
By Ellen Bravo
Recently I had the honor of celebrating two decades of the Family and Medical Leave Act with Sen. Chris Dodd, the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate, and Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, who’s helping lead the fight for $5 million in appropriations for states to create family leave insurance funds. We spoke at a forum organized by the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, the group behind the recent victory of such a program in their state.
It all took place in a majestic building named for another Rhode Island senator, the late Claiborne Pell, the man behind those Pell grants designed to make college possible for low-income families.
Sen. Reed began the program by noting that those who take leave need some financial support in addition to time to care for a loved one. “It provides for a better workplace when people feel in a moment of crisis they can care for their families,” he said.
Sen. Dodd reminded the audience of the bipartisan support that helped pass the FMLA not just once, but three times. The first two bills were vetoed by then President George H. W. Bush; the third was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, who describes it as his greatest achievement.
Watching Sen. Reed leave early to deal with a group of Tea Party extremists threatening to shut down the government made us all aware that such bipartisanship is hard to come by today. But Sen. Dodd described this period as a “bad patch.” He pointed to the great legislative victories of the 1960s that came on the heels of a grim decade of mean-spiritedness as evidence that “the institution can turn around.”
What will lead to passage of the national FAMILY Act, he said, will be the growing body of wins in the states. Although a national bill is preferable, Sen. Dodd pointed out that people need help now; these local wins “inspire and raise the possibility” of the change we need.
I was proud to be part of this conversation. When asked why we’re so behind the rest of the world, I pointed to the role of lobbyists for giant corporations and the politicians who listen to them rather than the needs of working families.
But our movement is demonstrating that paid family leave isn’t just good policy –it’s good politics. We’ll appeal to elected officials whose own families are dealing with autism and Alzheimers. But we’ll also make clear that those who stand in the way will be replaced.