November 18, 2013 — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) this month will introduce the FAMILY Act, legislation in her Opportunity Plan that would improve on current leave policies for women in the workforce, but "it will likely take years" for the legislation to make its way through Congress, the American Prospect reports.
The FAMILY Act would bolster the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act, which "allows certain workers -- public-sector employees or private-sector ones who have been employed for at least a year -- to take unpaid leave for child care or health reasons," according to the Prospect.
Gillibrand's legislation -- developed by the National Partnership for Women & Families and the Center for American Progress -- would give 12 weeks paid leave to all eligible workers, regardless of company size, duration of employment or number of hours worked. Specifically, the plan requires deposits of 0.2% from employee earnings, plus matching employer contributions, to be placed in a Social Security Administration fund. Up to 66% of the account would be given to employees and their family when they take leave.
The Prospect reports that "while the FAMILY Act would do much to address the inadequacies of the FMLA, there are many problems that the law wouldn't solve," particularly those pregnant workers face. Employees currently are protected against "the most common employer actions against pregnant workers" under the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, but they are exposed to "other forms of discrimination, like failing to provide accommodations for pregnant workers in strained physical condition," according to the Prospect.
In addition, a report from the National Women's Law Center found that employers sometimes use the FMLA to force low-income, pregnant workers to take unpaid leave during their pregnancy, leaving them without any time off once their child is born.
Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act -- developed by the NWLC, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), National Partnership and several other organizations -- would require employers to "make accommodations for pregnant workers -- similar to those that are currently required for disabled workers under the American Disabilities Act of 1990," the Prospect reports. Nadler introduced the measure in the House, while Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) has proposed it in the Senate. Gillibrand is a co-sponsor.
Although Gillibrand's legislation "comes at a promising time for paid-leave legislation" -- several cities and states recently approved a spate of paid leave insurance and paid sick days legislation -- "it will likely take years for the FAMILY Act ... to be enacted," according to the Prospect. FMLA legislation was introduced annually for almost 10 consecutive years before it was approved by Congress, and the "current obstructionist political climate and the GOP's record on women-friendly legislation doesn't bode well for ease of passage," the Prospect reports.
However, several recent polls have found wide public support for these policies, including a 2012 survey from Lake Research Partners and the Tarrance Group that found bipartisan support for paid family- and medical-leave policies.
In addition, Jen Kern, a national issues campaign director for Working Families, is optimistic about the role of such progressive policies in the 2014 elections. "It's harder to win than you would think, but we're starting to see momentum," she said, adding that "we've historically seen the momentum for these kinds of policies happen first at the state level."
Kern also said that "[Gillibrand and others in Congress] see this as a women's economic security agenda building toward the 2014 elections, so I think this is all part of that effort, and it's very timely" (Larson, American Prospect, 11/14).