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Barbara's Column
August 2001 #3

On family leave: It's not business, it's personal
by Barbara Anderson


The Salem Evening News
Wednesday, August 22, 2001

The AFL-CIO wants paid family leave. It wants the Legislature to pass a bill paying for it.

At first glance this seems reasonable, considering that the Legislature has been on paid leave, family or no, for most of this year.

So since working people are paying for the legislative leave, make legislators pay for workers' leave with the paychecks the politicians aren't earning, and leave me alone.

Leave me alone anyhow. I'm back in western Pennsylvania, taking care of my own family, in this case my mother -- and of course the AFL-CIO will not be satisfied with its present proposal for leave to care for a new baby or adoptee, but will insist on expanding it eventually to cover leave for elderly parents.

Pretty soon, most of the workforce will be home changing diapers or pushing wheelchairs. A few people without needy family will have to do the work and pay for the family leave of the others, which seems unfair as well as untenable. So let's stop and think about the law of unintended consequences: high taxes or employer costs, a huge labor shortage, and of course lots of cheating as some people on leave neglect their kids and parents while still getting a check to support their newborn leisure.

At least set up some guidelines. You can start with mine: my business partner makes me carry a cell phone at all times in case he has to reach me. This morning I am working on my laptop, as mother's friends drop by her apartment to see what I'm selling or giving away as we move her permanently into the nursing home.

I'm not selling much except for large furniture; rather, I beg them to take stuff that I can't possibly fit into my own five-room house. I chase them down the halls like an eastern bazaar merchant, extolling the virtues of wine glasses, blankets, knick-knacks and Corning Ware.

I insist that they, like Cinderella, can fit their feet into mother's size 7 slippers if they try hard enough. And I point out that many of the items in her closet have never been worn -- especially the clothes my son or I bought her.

Now that I see them among her own choices -- black and white checked pantsuits, polyester blouses, pastel dusters --- I wonder what we were thinking to send a gold and sky-blue Navajo blouse, a Mexican embroidered lounger and serape, and a sweatshirt decorated with plastic new-age symbols, though I still think the silk blouses are nice if you like to iron.

So many desk and dresser drawers, so little time. When did we decide as a society to spend our lives accumulating? My son says I am not allowed to die until I have cleared everything unnecessary from my house, and I promise I am going to start as soon as I get home.

The AFL-CIO's third bill will probably insist on paid family-stuff leave: workers to get two weeks a year to clean out attics, basements and garages, as well as parents' homes and apartments.

Believe me, I sympathize with the need for more time in all our lives for family concerns. I have been able to attend to my mother's needs this year only because, a) I can do a lot of my job from a distance and, b) I have a job that doesn't pay much but gives me lots of flexibility in scheduling work hours. Petition drives and ballot campaigns are marathons, then comp time comes during legislative breaks.

Somehow I think the AFL-CIO, however, is still thinking overtime pay during heavy work-load periods, and employer-paid family leave too, regardless of how busy the company is when the workers need it.

When did businesses get responsible for what was once personal responsibility? I can understand workman's comp and unemployment insurance, which are work-related. But why should it be the employers' job to provide health insurance and paid family leave? Business provides goods, services and incidentally jobs; seems that this should be enough to fulfill its societal obligations.

Better to cut federal, state and local taxes so that families get to keep more of their money after they earn it. That would be a start, but we really need a revolution that goes beyond taxes.

Maybe it's time we think about what our society has become since both parents started working full time in so many families. Sometimes two earners are necessary for survival, but I'll bet a lot of us are working to accumulate things that we don't really need as much as we need time to spend with each other and keep ourselves healthier.

Too bad we can't just do a petition drive for a better, more meaningful quality of life at our own expense.


Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.


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