The nation’s family leave law is helping workers without causing the hardships for business that critics had feared, a report to Congress concludes.
President Clinton’s re-election campaign wasted no time seizing on the report released Wednesday, noting that the bill became law only after Clinton had been elected and over the objections of Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., the GOP’s presidential nominee-in-waiting.
“It is ironic for the nominee of the party that claims to have a patent on the term ‘family values’ to find Sen. Dole disparaging medical leave,” said Ann Lewis, Clinton’s deputy campaign manager. “If that’s not about family values, I don’t know what the words mean.”
The Dole campaign responded that he would prefer a tax credit for employers who provide unpaid leave.
“This is a classic example of Bill Clinton putting his trust in big government and Bob Dole putting his trust in people,” spokesman Nelson Warfield said in a statement. “Clinton government regulation vs. Dole economic growth will be an issue this fall.”
The report was issued by the bipartisan Commission on Family and Medical Leave, created by the bill in a last-minute effort to gain additional support.
The law took effect in August 1993 and covers nearly 55 percent of U.S. workers, including all public sector workers and those who work for private companies with 50 or more workers. It allows these workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family medical emergencies or parents with new children.
The report’s findings should not be taken as definitive, said Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., a member of the commission who voted against the bill. He said it is too early to tell what the law’s effect will be.
“I don’t think we ought to draw quick and total conclusions,” he said.
Other critics of the law called the report overly optimistic, saying business has been affected more than proponents indicate.
“People are complaining about this,” said Peter Eide, manager of labor law policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Campaigning on family leave should help Clinton maintain his solid lead among female voters, Lewis said.
“This issue is both an example of why there is such a large gender gap and one of the issues that is going to keep it,” she said.
The report showed that two-thirds of employers covered by the law changed their policies to come into compliance and that most experienced little or no cost.
“The good news is not just that this legislation has been good for families, but also for American industry,” said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who sponsored the measure.
Dodd hailed the report as a vindication of those who fought a seven-year fight for the bill, saying the policy is “living up to its advanced billing.”
Among the report’s findings:
Between 1.5 million and 3 million people took family or medical leave between January 1994 and July 1995, or less than 4 percent of eligible workers.
Employer costs went up most in the administrative area, but more than 90 percent of employers surveyed reported no change or small increases in benefits, hiring or other costs.
The most difficult problem for businesses was employees taking intermittent leave, with days off punctuating their schedules. While only 11.5 percent of people taking leave did so intermittently, that posed an administrative difficulty for 39.2 percent of employers.
Overall, 86.4 percent of employers said there was no noticeable effect on business productivity.
Most people taking leave, 60 percent, did so for their own health problems. About 13 percent did so to take care of a newborn, adopted or foster child, and 7.6 percent taking off for to care for an ill child. About 15 percent took leave to care for a sick parent, spouse or other relative. About 3.8 percent took leave for maternity disability.
The commission’s findings come from a survey in the summer of 1995 of 1,206 private employers who were contacted by mail and then by phone, with 73.2 percent responding. Also last summer, 2,352 employees were surveyed.