Wisconsin Wave

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On Women’s Equality Day 25 years ago, former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson signed the state’s Family Medical Leave Act into law, a stricter version of the federal version already on the books.

On Monday, hundreds gathered outside the state Capitol in Madison to mark Thompson’s action and to draw attention to past efforts by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business lobby, to repeal Wisconsin’s version.

Compared to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, Wisconsin’s law allows employees to substitute accrued pay or unpaid leave of any kind as a means of pay during their six-week leave.

Wisconsin’s law also allows for leave for a greater number of reasons, including birth, adoption, to care for a sick spouse, parent or child, and domestic partners and in-laws.

The federal act does not allow for leave to care for domestic partners and in-laws.

Employees also qualify faster for Family and Medical Leave in Wisconsin, earning leave after working for an employer 1,000 hours in the preceding 52 weeks compared to the 1,250 hours in the preceding 12 months required by the federal law.

“Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave (Act) has protected the jobs of thousands of Wisconsin’s families over the past 25 years when they’ve needed the time to bring a new baby into the family, care for themselves or a family member during times of health crises.” said Dana Schultz, state director of 9to5, a national organization working to promote economic justice for women.

Schultz and a handful of women pushed strollers to the WMC headquarters on East Washington Street following the Women’s Equality Day rally to deliver more than 1,200 signatures on a petition asking the WMC not to lobby for the state law’s repeal.

“We aren’t going to be part of their race to the bottom,” Schultz said.

Jim Pugh, a WMC spokesman, accepted the signatures from the women outside the building and denied any effort was currently under way to repeal the state law.

“We aren’t going to repeal the state’s Family Medical Leave Act,” Pugh told the handful of women who delivered the signatures. “We will continue to monitor the policy and we will proceed with what is in the best interest of our members.”

The state law requires a company to hold a position for an employee to take six unpaid weeks off. It only applies to companies with 50 or more employees. Schultz said her organization's focus when the legislature resumes in September is to keep the state law in place.

Later a push will be made to make time off for family and medical leave paid and to include more employees.

“If we don’t have a state bill, we can’t build on it,” Schultz told the crowd, after getting the crowd to shout “Paid leave now! Paid leave now!”

Speakers on Monday addressed a number of topics they said have come under attack since Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled state legislature took over in 2010. They include the repeal of a state-mandated, medically based sexual education curriculum, the repeal of the state’s equal pay law (the federal law remains intact) and numerous restrictions to the access of abortion and the defunding of state money that used to help pay for cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics.

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