As the Joint Finance Committee meets this week to finalize the budget, there could be many harmful amendments to working families slipped into the budget at the last minute. In an ongoing affront to democracy, Republicans’ pattern has been to jam controversial issues that hurt working families into the budget during late-night sessions without proper democratic debate or notice to the public.
One possible amendment that could get slipped into the budget is an attempt to weaken Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This could also come in the form of a separate bill.
Federalizing Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act goes against Wisconsin values of fairness, justice and family support. Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave is a lifeline relied upon each year by countless workers going through the difficult task of caring for themselves or for a family member facing a medical emergency. Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act allows a worker to take appropriate leave after the birth of a child or when an illness falls upon themselves or a family member.
Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act is stronger than existing federal law, but Republicans have been trying to weaken Wisconsin’s family leave and deny many workers the ability to take leave to care for themselves or family members.
Here are some of the ways that Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act is better than federal law:
Better eligibility requirements: Under Wisconsin FMLA you are eligible for leave after 1,000 hours of work which includes paid time off. The Federal law requires 1,250 of work excluding paid time off. This is a huge loss for part-time workers.
The right to substitute accrued time: Under Wisconsin FMLA, the employee chooses whether to substitute accrued paid leave of any type for unpaid leave under the Wisconsin FMLA. With the Federal FMLA, the employer can force the employee to substitute paid vacation, personal leave and compensatory time for any type of federal FMLA leave.
More protections for workers at small work locations: Under Wisconsin FMLA you are eligible for coverage if your employer employs 50 or more people in the state. Under Federal FMLA the employer has to have 50 employees within a 75 mile radius. This will exclude many employees at smaller chain establishments as well as employees in rural areas.
The right to take intermittent leave: Under Wisconsin FMLA, you can take intermittent leave for all family and medical emergencies in increments equal to the shortest increment permitted by the employer for any other non-emergency leave. Federal FMLA permits intermittent leave ONLY when necessary for serious health conditions, not for birth or adoption of a child.
As we celebrate Father’s Day this weekend, we are reminded that we should be strengthening paid leave to build strong families in Wisconsin. Rolling back Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave protections erode a worker’s freedom to care for a loved one or themselves during a time of need. Instead of further weakening workers’ rights and crumbling our familial support systems, the Wisconsin Legislature should focus on boosting our sluggish economy by creating jobs, raising wages for workers and investing in our outdated infrastructure.
Wisconsin families need to keep their voices strong as the budget hits its final deliberations and stay vigilant of any last minute sneak attacks against worker rights, wages and issues important to working families.
Phil Neuenfeldt, President
Stephanie Bloomingdale, Secretary-Treasurer