FMLA Anniversary Events in D.C. Call for Celebration and Expansion

Leading political and administration figures in Washington, DC gathered on February 5 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act. From former President Bill Clinton who signed it into law to mothers who’ve used it to care for newborns, for a toddler faced with sudden deafness, and for a son with serious war wounds, everyone agreed:  the FMLA has been enormously beneficial for American families.

Speakers also agreed: it’s past time to make it available and affordable for everyone.

Vivian Mikhail (to the left of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi above) from the Maine Women’s Policy Center, one of the 20 member coalitions that make up Family Values @ Work, described the two times she used FMLA: once for the happiest of reasons, the birth of her daughter Nadia in 2004, and 16 months later for “the most unexpected, terrifying, and all-consuming reason,” when her daughter suddenly became very ill with an auto-immune disease that left her deaf in both ears.

Nancy Pelosi and the other Representatives who were present were visibly moved to hear Vivian describe all the appointments, therapies, American Sign Language lessons and hospital stays for her daughter’s bilateral cochlear implants. “Unpaid leave was hard,” Vivian said, “but without FMLA, we would have suffered financial loses likely too great to recover from during Nadia’s childhood, as I was the primary wage earner in our family and the source of health insurance.”

The experience led Vivian to become an activist to make sure that no family is forced to abandon a loved one in a time of need.

(To watch the event on CSpan, go to http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/310829-1.)

Earlier in the day, Vivian and other FV@W representatives and their kids visited with staff from Rep. Chellie Pingree’s office.

Camara Hudson, daughter of Carol Joyner from the Labor Project for Working Families, talked about being a camp counselor during an outbreak of lice among campers. The staff sent the children home, but one mother had to bring her daughter back every day in order to keep her job. Camara, age 17, has become an activist as well.

Rep. Pelosi’s press event was followed by a celebration at the Department of Labor, whose Wage and Hour Division oversees education and enforcement for the FMLA. President Bill Clinton appeared as a surprise guest, along with former Senator Chris Dodd, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Tina Tchen, head of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and Acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris.

President Clinton reminded the audience that “laws are not meant to be monuments. They must change with the times.”  He specifically mentioned family leave insurance, paid sick days, and including care for grandparents.

FMLA is the issue people most thank him for, Clinton said, noting that “every time FMLA is used, there’s a story.” He described a flight attendant who told him about using FMLA when her mother had a stroke and her father suffered from Alzheimer’s. “Family values should include time for a dying parent,” she said.

“People desperately want to have successful families, to be good parents, to have a job and succeed at it,” said Clinton. “”If you take one away to get the other, the country pays a grievous price and every life is diminished.”

President Barack Obama echoed these sentiments in a statement on Tuesday. “Not all employees are covered by the law, and oftentimes workers cannot afford to take unpaid leave,” he said. “So as we mark this anniversary, let us also recommit ourselves to the values that inspired the law and redouble our efforts on behalf of fairer workplaces and healthier, more secure families.”