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Take a Real Stand for Family Values : Bush can show his commitment by dropping his threat to veto family leave legislation

August 16, 1992

Family values are important to President Bush. Are they important enough for him to sign a bill that allows a parent to stay home four months--without pay--to care for a new baby or a severely ill child or parent without losing a job?

The Family Leave Act, approved last week by the Senate, would allow employees of big businesses to take as many as 12 weeks of unpaid leave for childbirth or to care for an ill member of the immediate family. After the leave, the employee would be allowed to return to the same job or a similar one.

The House is expected to approve a compromise version of the legislation before the presidential election in November.

That timing could put pressure on Bush to sign the measure because his Democratic opponent, Bill Clinton, supports family leave. The President vetoed a family leave bill two years ago.

Bush knows firsthand the agony of caring for a severely ill child. His daughter, Robin, died of leukemia at age 3 in 1953.

The President has threatened to veto the legislation because he believes that the requirement would impose a hardship on business. The greater hardship would fall, however, on workers who are forced to choose between keeping a job and tending to a family emergency.

Businesses would enjoy some protections. The legislation would exclude 95% of all businesses because it would apply only to firms with 50 or more employees.

An employee would have to work for a firm at least a year before he or she qualified for a leave. Many workers would choose to use only a week or two of the unpaid leave because of economic pressures.

Studies show that it is cost-effective for employers to give workers flexibility in dealing with their family crises, thus holding onto trained workers rather than replacing them and having to train new employees.

Businesses would be required to continue health benefits; that would allow a worker on leave a little peace of mind during a stressful time.

The President has said that he is not against family leave. However, he prefers that companies set such policies voluntarily or negotiate the benefit.

Some states, including California, already mandate a compassionate unpaid family leave for new mothers, employees battling a major illness or workers who must tend to seriously ill children, spouses or parents. A federal law would protect all Americans who work at large businesses.

President Bush can demonstrate his commitment to families by announcing that he will sign the leave bill. No American worker should be forced to choose between a job and caring for a sick relative.

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