President Barack Obama talks with former President Bill Clinton before an event in McLean, Va., Sunday, April 29, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Presidents Clinton and Obama
Former President Bill Clinton commemorates the 20th anniversary of signing the Family and Medical Leave Act in Clinton style, with some arithmetic and with eloquence and with an admonition that there's more to be done, in this op-ed.
Twenty years ago today, barely more than two weeks into my presidency, I stood in the White House Rose Garden to sign the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provided millions of Americans with the opportunity to take time off to care for a new child or sick relative. It was then and remains today the embodiment of my governing philosophy of empowerment through opportunity and responsibility. To this day, I receive more thanks from citizens for the FMLA than any other single piece of legislation I signed into law. Between 1991 and 1997, the percentage of full-time employees in large and medium-sized businesses taking maternity leave grew from 37 to 93 percent. By the time I had left office, 35 million Americans had taken leave, and estimates today suggest that number has grown to 100 million.

They all have a story, like the father who brought his cancer-stricken daughter on a White House tour. He told me she was very ill and probably wouldn’t make it, but the months he’d taken off from work to be with her were the most important months of his life. Or the flight attendant who told me about both her parents falling ill at the same time, with only her and her sister to take care of them. Without FMLA, they couldn’t have done it. She said, “All politicians talk about family values, but I think how your parents die is an important family value.”

Now, he concludes, it's time to do what he called for at the end of his administration, find "new ways to provide paid leave to those workers who need to take off but cannot afford to do so." He's absolutely right. The U.S. is woefully lagging behind the rest of the developed world in providing paid leave to its workforce. In face, we're the only one of 16 high-income nations that doesn't mandate paid leave. We also have the shortest amount of leave time covered: 12 weeks as opposed to the 162 weeks French and German workers can receive. There's also a huge chunk of the workforce—40 percent—that isn't even eligible for FMLA.

Twenty years of getting used to the idea of family and medical leave should be plenty, and now that the nation has seen that it hasn't crippled businesses, it's time to start pushing for more. It's time to once again take on John Boeher and the other 18 Republicans who voted against FMLA the first time around and are still in office. The Republicans are trying to rebrand the party as family friendly. It would be the perfect time to make them prove it.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 08:12 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos Labor and Daily Kos.

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