Revisiting Parental Leave

By Stephen Barr
Thursday, January 11, 2007

Many companies offer paid parental leave to their employees after the birth of a child, but not Uncle Sam.

Naturally, young federal employees would like the government to offer such family leave, but personnel officials have balked, saying that the government already provides a generous package of vacation and sick leave and that more paid time off would not improve recruitment and retention of employees.

If Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has his way, however, that debate will be reopened this year. He has introduced a bill that would provide eight weeks of paid leave to federally employed women after childbirth and five days of paid leave for new fathers. The bill also would provide five days of paid leave to federal employees who adopt children.

Federal parents would also receive eight hours of paid leave to take their children to the doctor or dentist and for parent-teacher meetings at schools.

Stevens, a longtime advocate for federal employees, has his eye on the legislative branch, too. An aide said Stevens wants to require senators to offer paid maternity leave to their staffers. (He gives 12 weeks of paid maternity leave to employees in his office.) And while he is at it, Stevens is working on another bill to require companies with more than 50 employees to provide paid maternity leave.

Stevens played a key role in the creation of the Thrift Savings Plan, a 401(k)-type retirement savings program. He also was one of the original sponsors of the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act, which provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

The senator has named his federal employee bill the Family Leave Act. In a written statement, Stevens said: "It will provide time for mothers to recover after childbirth without having to worry about the financial burdens that come with unpaid leave. Thousands of Alaska women work for the federal government and could benefit under this new program."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) will join Stevens as a co-sponsor of bill. Other senators also will be invited to co-sponsor the leave bill, the aide to Stevens said.

In recent years, House members usually have taken the lead in sponsoring bills to provide federal employees with six weeks of paid parental leave for the birth of a child or an adoption. Last year, Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), Steny H . Hoyer (D-Md.) and Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) co-sponsored a parental leave bill.

The Bush administration has looked at the issue as part of its budget planning for fiscal 2008. Linda M. Springer, director of the Office of Personnel Management, has expressed interest in exploring whether a program could be created to offer short-term disability insurance to federal employees. Such a program might be a way to provide maternity benefits, easing complaints from younger federal employees who often say they run short of vacation and sick leave when caring for a newborn or an adopted child.

Any proposals to expand federal benefits may run up against efforts to erase some of the federal budget's red ink. Congressional leaders hope to hold down government spending as part of an effort to reduce the federal deficit.

Bush to Oppose Screeners Union

A House plan to give collective bargaining rights to about 43,000 airport screeners at the Transportation Security Administration will be opposed by the White House.

The proposal to roll back a Bush administration ban on unions at the TSA was included in a bill to implement many of the remaining recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The bill was approved 299 to 128 late Tuesday and was sent to the Senate.

"This measure seeks to reverse the flexibility given to TSA to perform its critical aviation security mission," the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement. "The administration vigorously disagrees with these provisions of the bill."

The American Federation of Government Employees, which has sought to represent screeners since 2001, contends that the TSA workers should have the same union rights as other Department of Homeland Security employees.

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