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Advocates: Congress 'Very Close' to Passing Paid Family Leave for Feds

Union officials and members are hopeful a Defense policy bill provision providing 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child and other medical issues will make it into law.

Officials with the National Treasury Employees Union said Thursday that they are hopeful that a plan to provide federal workers with 12 weeks of paid family leave will soon become law.

The text of the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (H.R. 1534) was included as a provision of the House’s version of the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act earlier this year. Although the language was not included in the Senate’s version of the bill, the chamber narrowly voted against instructing conference committee negotiators to incorporate it into the final version of the legislation. The vote was 47-48.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., would provide 12 weeks of paid leave to federal employees for the birth, adoption or fostering of a child, or to help care for a child, parent or spouse with a serious medical condition.

Dawn Clark, an Internal Revenue Service employee based in Kansas City and member of NTEU Chapter 66, said that she has been driving to Chicago each weekend to visit her father in a Veterans Affairs hospice care facility after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in February in connection with exposure to Agent Orange. Her father died on Tuesday, she said.

“I’ve worked at the IRS for less than two years, and I used all of my sick and annual leave caring for my father,” Clark said. “Unpaid leave is not an option, so I have had to drive back and forth, and it’s very expensive . . . Paid leave would have allowed me to be there with him for his final days without worrying about lost income or the expenses associated with traveling every weekend. I could have spent consistent time with him without feeling that I was always leaving him alone, not knowing if it would be the last time I would see him.”

Jennifer Haull, an IRS employee in San Diego, said an emergency C-section in 2018 has completely drained her ability to use annual and sick leave.

“When I got pregnant, I only had a few weeks of sick and annual leave saved up,” Haull said. “I had to borrow leave [because of my emergency C section], and I’m still paying back the sick leave that I borrowed. As it stands now, I won’t have any leave until September 2020.”

Erika Moritsugu, vice president for economic justice at the National Partnership for Women and Families, said 12 weeks of paid family leave not only would help federal workers to take care of loved ones, but it would save agencies money.

“Public servants are being forced to make impossible choices, and it’s a terrible burden on federal workers, but taxpayers are paying a price as well in terms of the replacement of employees,” she said. “Paid leave policies are key to improving recruitment and retention, particularly among younger employees. It’s not just good HR management, but it’s the right thing to do and sends a message about the value we place on families.”

NTEU National President Tony Reardon noted that four Republicans—Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Mukowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia—broke ranks to support the measure. Had some absent Democrats voted, the instruction to include the paid leave provision would have succeeded.

“I think we’re definitely very close,” Reardon said. “The four Republicans who joined [to vote for the provision] have made it clear that there is growing bipartisan support for providing this important benefit, and I hope conferees take that into consideration and include it in the final bill.”