Bill would extend Family and Medical Leave Act benefits to 2.7M education support professionals

A bill to extend the Family and Medical Leave Act’s benefit to about 2.7 million education support professionals has been reupped in the new Congress. 

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, and Rep. Sean Casten, D-Illinois, on Feb. 2 reintroduced the ESP and School Support Staff Family Leave Act, which would grant protection to school support staff, such as janitorial staff, food service workers, bus drivers and clerical support staff. These workers would be eligible for FMLA protection if they work more than 60% of the total monthly hours expected for their role, in line with a 2009 provision for airline flight crew workers

“This gap in coverage means that many of the critical staff that we trust to help feed, transport or teach our students are unable to access basic benefits without risk of losing their job. As we continue to make our workplaces more equitable, improving and expanding the FMLA to cover our education support staff is essential,” Casten said in a news release. 

Lawmakers and supporters regard the FMLA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton 30 years ago — Feb. 5, 1993 —  as landmark legislation that provided U.S. workers with job-protected leave. But they also see it as a stepping stone for expanding coverage to more workers and paid leave. 

“Currently, FMLA protects 56% of the workforce, and gaps in FMLA coverage leave out workers at small employers, folks working one or multiple part-time job positions and those re-entering the workforce or changing jobs. This means some of our most vulnerable workers are the least likely to be protected — people of color and low-wage workers,” Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Illinois, said Monday during a U.S. Department of Labor event marking the 30th anniversary of the FMLA. Alongside Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minnesota, Underwood reintroduced the Job Protection Act to close gaps in coverage for employees of small businesses, part-time workers and those either switching jobs or returning to the workforce

“These gaps also disproportionately impact women, who are more likely to need leave but less likely to be eligible for job-protected leave under FMLA,” Underwood said.

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