Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act

AFA-CWA Applauds Completion of Rule Covering Airline Crews

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act. Since 1993, working women and men have used the law to cope with illness, tend to sick family members and care for a new child 100 million times.

"The Family and Medical Leave Act was an important step forward in helping working Americans juggle the dual demands of work and family," said CWA President Larry Cohen. "It recognized that workers need time for family responsibilities, whether it's to care for a new baby, an ailing parent or other concerns."

Labor unions, women's rights groups and grassroots organizations lobbied for nearly 10 years to win these 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave.

But it took more than another decade for the nation's Flight Attendants to have that same right. Under the original law, employees had to work 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months to qualify. A typical full-time Flight Attendant logs about 70 to 80 hours in the air each month, making it very difficult for many Flight Attendants to satisfy that threshold.

In 2009, President Barack Obama corrected that by signing into law the Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act. Then just this week, the Labor Department provided the guidance needed to establish eligibility requirements specifically for airline flight crewmembers.

"It is fitting that as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the historic legislation that has helped millions of workers care for themselves and their loved ones without jeopardizing their jobs, the Department of Labor announces the final rule that provides the same peace of mind and protections to Flight Attendants and our families," said AFA-CWA President Veda Shook. "AFA has worked tirelessly to ensure that flight crews are treated fairly and qualify for essential FMLA benefits. While working with Congress to implement an effective solution, AFA has been negotiating Flight Attendant contracts to include vital FMLA language. From now on, the unintended oversight of the original FMLA legislation is corrected and off the bargaining table for good."

For CWA, the FMLA has allowed workers to nurse and care for newborns. One member employed as a cable splicer was able to have the knee surgery he needed to be able to continue working in manholes. Another telecom worker was able to take time off work to take care of a son with asthma, an elderly grandmother with Alzheimer's and her own severe health problems.

Still, more needs to be done. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the law. Because the eligibility requirements, the FMLA only covers about half of the workforce, leaving more than 75 million workers with zero protections.

Out of 178 countries, the United States is just one of three that does not guarantee paid maternity leave.

A Labor Department study found that 78 percent of workers who qualified for and needed FMLA leave didn't take it because they couldn't afford to go without a paycheck.

The good news is that a recent survey commissioned by the National Partnership for Women and Families found bipartisan support for new laws "ensuring workers have the right to earn paid sick days creating a system of family and medical leave insurance." Of the Democrats and Republicans polled, 86 percent considered it important, and 63 percent called it very important.