One of the things that really gets under my skin is the notion that in the battle over rhetoric, the wingnuts have won the word “family.” Since when is telling people that they can’t get married, can’t adopt kids, can’t get the proper health services for their kids pro-family? Lest you think we live in a sane society.
The ridiculousness of the right’s ownership over the word “family” was nowhere clearer than in many Republicans’ opposition to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA requires that employers (in companies of over 50 employees) allow employees to take up to 12 weeks in any 12-month period of unpaid leave to care for a family member or child. Employees cannot face negative employment actions for taking the leave. Though detractors argued that Congress does not have the power to pass such a law, in 2003, the Supreme Court (in an opinion by Rehnquist!) upheld the law.
The FMLA is a step, but a small one. There’s still no paid leave. And, like Title VII, it only applies to large employers. And still, it continues to face stiff opposition from the party that is supposedly pro-life and pro-family.
The impact of the FMLA and its import was on full display in a NY Times Magazine article this weekend, penned by the Absolute Convictions author Eyal Press (the article is long but worth reading in full as this post will discuss only one small part of it). In a discussion of the wave of lawsuits that have been brought under the FMLA, Press gets right to the point:
The flood of cases reflects not just the increased presence of women in the workplace but also the growing difficulty Americans of all social backgrounds seem to be having in balancing the demands of work and family. Unlike so-called “glass ceiling” cases involving women barred from the top rungs of a handful of elite professions, the plaintiffs in these new work-family disputes have ranged across the occupational spectrum, from physicians to police officers to grocery clerks. While not all have become millionaires, more than half have prevailed in court — a success rate significantly higher than that of more conventional employment-discrimination cases, which is below 20 percent. Beyond causing headaches for their employers, the lawsuits are serving notice that the battle over “family values” is no longer just about gay marriage and abortion: it’s also about workplace attitudes that some advocates believe do significantly more to undermine family life than those controversial practices do.
Exactly. The article also demonstrates how harmful it can be to one’s career (male or female, interestingly, though of course it still hurts women more) to be a parent, especially of more than one child. FMLA tries to minimize these effects.
So let’s get this straight: it’s the people who claim to be pro-life and pro-family who oppose leave to care for their families and who would do nothing to remedy the parent penalty? Insanity indeed.