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Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011

Issue of the Week: Change Family Leave?

Plus Hero and Jerk of the Week

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Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature are introducing new bills daily that impact all of our lives. One of their recently introduced bills modifies the very popular and necessary state Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to bring it more in line with the weaker federal FMLA legislation.

The clear winners in the bill are families of those in military service and foster parents, since Wisconsin’s FMLA hadn’t carved out special rights for these folks.

However, other changes are problematic. Currently, Wisconsin requires eligible employees to work at least 1,000 hours in the 12 months prior to taking their FMLA leave. But the bill would change that to the federal standard, or 1,250 hours in the preceding 12 months. The bill would also require spouses working for the same employer to share their FMLA benefits to take unpaid time off for a birth, adoption or to take care of a sick parent. In addition, Wisconsin’s FMLA is more generous to employees than the federal version when it comes to taking intermittent time off. That would change.

We’re happy that the state Legislature is considering extending state FMLA benefits to more workers. But we’re concerned that Wisconsin’s FMLA will be weakened in some places so that it’s brought into line with federal law. That’s not in the best interests of workers who are struggling to earn a living at the same time they’re caring for a loved one.

Hero of the Week

Phil “Philo” Kassner

The Grand Avenue Club (210 E. Michigan St.) helps adults experiencing mental illnesses to integrate into society via work and education, and enjoy productive, satisfying lives. Founded in 1991, the nonprofit Grand Avenue Club (GAC) helps hundreds of members explore educational opportunities and locate employment.

In addition to the GAC’s members and full-time staff, the success of its model depends on volunteers such as Phil (“Philo”) Kassner. An IT professional, Kassner gives of his free time to help the GAC with its computer-related concerns. He installed and maintains their network, and fixes any hardware or software issues, saving the organization thousands of dollars annually. Kassner also refurbishes donated computers, wiping the hard drives and installing licensed copies of Windows software, which are made available to members for only $15.

Individuals and companies who would like to donate their old computers or otherwise help the GAC in its mission are encouraged to call 414-276-6474.

Jerk of the Week

In our efforts to contribute to bringing greater civility to the public debate, we are indefinitely suspending the Jerk of the Week column. Unfortunately, it is not for a lack of jerks, but the Jerk of the Week column was too rigid of a format. There are some very earnest, decent individuals who promote issues or policies that sound like good, common-sense ideas but that turn out to have very serious and deleterious effects, for example, on working people and children. These policy ideas may sound good on a superficial level, but on further analysis have severe consequences and are truly cruel policies. We are not going to shy away from exposing and criticizing these cruel policies, but we want to spend more time looking at the policy and its ramifications and less time attacking the individual promoting the policy. In this same spirit of promoting greater civility, we ask Mr. Sykes and Mr. Belling to please reconsider their approaches so as to focus on the issues and not attack the individuals.