WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden discussed the legacy of the Family and Medical Leave Act and his own administration’s work supporting labor rights at a White House event marking the act’s 30th anniversary Thursday.
The FMLA required eligible employees to receive unpaid leave from their covered employers. It allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to provide care for a family member, bond with a child or to address personal health. Biden said the act was consequential in helping American families and improving the overall economy.
He said he understood the need for childcare when he was a senator and was forced to rely on other family members to care for his children while he was away. His office staff had the ability to take leave without having to provide reasoning because he said he trusted them and recognized its importance.
“[The FLDA] became law and transformed the lives of literally millions of men and women,” Biden said. “The law was a step toward that dignity my dad used to talk about. Dignity for working families, dignity for workers with serious illnesses and parents with new children.”
Former President Bill Clinton, who passed the FMLA in 1993 during his first term, outlined the history of the FMLA in his speech. He recognized former Senator Chris Dodd, who authored the bill multiple times and saw it vetoed twice under President George H.W. Bush before it ultimately passed.
Clinton shared a story about one dad who came to visit the White House with his daughter. After their tour, the dad told Clinton the FMLA was going to help him spend the final days of his daughter’s life with her.
“‘These months I have spent with her are by far the most important of my life,’” Clinton recalled him saying. “‘It is so easy for you to forget that what you do affects the lives of other people in ways you cannot imagine.’”
Vice President Kamala Harris said the FMLA gave working mothers the opportunity to stay in the workforce. She said before the act passed, many people had to make “impossible choices” between taking care of a loved one and keeping a job.
Harris said she had personal experiences with balancing care work and her career. When she was San Francisco’s district attorney, she balanced the job with her mother’s cancer treatment. She said while her job gave her the means to stay by her mother’s side, many jobs do not.
“Thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act, millions of Americans since then have been
spared these false choices,” Harris said. “Let us be clear, in America in the 21st century, every worker should be able to take time off to care for themselves or for the people they love.”
Biden spent the remainder of his speech outlining the progress he’s made in laws related to the FMLA. He said the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act, passed in December, gave “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant workers. He also signed a law giving about 9 million nursing mothers private spaces and time to pump at work.
“This is the United States of America for God’s sake,” Biden said. “Women are 50% of our population, slightly more than 50% of our population. We can’t reach our full economic potential if we leave half the work force behind.”