Ian just woke up crying about a sore mouth. "Help me, mommy." He's warm and kicking off his covers. And I have three classes tomorrow. Steve has major deadlines this week and can't take off. My mom, who's also sick, has to pick him up tomorrow at 9:00. I won't be back until 4:00. How upset am I?
Seems like a good time to bring up an excellent blog post by Judith Warner. Since it's behind the TimesSelect wall, I have excerpted big chunks of her post for you.
In response to pressure from business groups, the Department of Labor has put out an official request for information on the Family and Medical Leave Act to find out if, as critics contend, the law is too generous and places an undue burden on employers who are required to comply with it.
Many of you may already be rolling your eyes. The United States, after all, ranks as one of the world’s most backward nations when it comes to family and medical leave benefits. A recent study from the McGill University Institute for Health and Social Policy in Montreal found that of 173 countries surveyed, 168 guaranteed women paid maternity leave. The United States – along with Lesotho, Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland – was not one of them. Eighty-six million working Americans have no paid sick days to use to care for ill children, and nearly one in two workers – 59 million in all – has no paid sick leave at all. (For more sad statistics, see the McGill study.)
The Family and Medical Leave Act, which President Clinton signed into law back in 1993, offers only the most basic and restricted protections: 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents or those who need time off to tend to their own or a relative’s “serious illness.” Yet, these restrictions, a coalition of business groups is now coming forward to insist, simply aren’t restrictive enough. They say employees are abusing their right to medical leave, taking off work for mental health days, for cosmetic surgery and for things like “pink eye, ingrown toenails and colds,” as the Orwellian-sounding National Coalition to Protect Family Leave, an industry group, has put it.
In the coming weeks, the business groups will be submitting a host of comments of this nature to the Department of Labor. (If you’d like to weigh in, perhaps with a reality check, you can do so, before Feb. 16, at this Web site.)
Business groups are working to rewrite the law to make it nearly impossible for all by the nearly dead to take off work.
What’s interesting to me here is that it clearly isn’t politically acceptable anymore to attack family and medical leave by bashing working mothers. Our current villain du jour is the health care glutton, who consumes doctor’s visits like so many donuts, sloughing off the burdens of his waste onto the hard-working and the health-care abstemious.
The health care glutton is the new millennium’s version of Ronald Reagan’s welfare queen, whose appetite for spawning children and sucking down public funds knew no limit, and whose specter ultimately led our country to accept a situation in which low-income mothers were forced back to work without child care or medical benefits for their families.
If the past is any guide, the appearance of the health care glutton may portend similarly bad news for those lucky American workers who are entitled to sick days and family leave, or who enjoy adequate health insurance benefits. If we let it happen.