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  • The FMLA Handbook: A Union Guide to Family and Medical Leave Act, Third Edition
  • Michelle Fecteau
The FMLA Handbook: A Union Guide to Family and Medical Leave Act, Third Edition. By Robert M. Schwartz . Cambridge, MA: Work Rights Press, 2006. 192 pp. $15 paper.

It's not every day, or even every decade that American workers win legislation entitling them to greater job protections. This is one reason the Family Medical Leave Act, and Robert Schwartz's latest book explaining how to use it, is so valuable. In The FMLA Handbook: A Union Guide to Family and Medical Leave Act, 3rd Ed., Schwartz provides clear and well-researched information that can be directly applied to maximize FMLA protections and increase workers' awareness and appreciation for these rights. This is critical to countering current efforts to weaken FMLA rights.

Under the Act eligible workers are entitled to 12 weeks (60 days) of unpaid leave per year due to personal illness, to care for an ill family member, or for maternity/paternity leave. They have the right to return to their job, or an equivalent one, and cannot be disciplined for any FMLA covered absences.

Although this is a third edition, a lot has happened since the last edition [End Page 81] was published in 2000, including two U.S. Supreme Court decisions. One upheld FMLA rights for state employees. In the other, Ragsdale v. Wolverine World Wide, Inc., the court invalidated a regulation giving employees more than 12 weeks of protected leave if their employer failed to provide properly notification that an absence would be deducted from their FMLA entitlement. There have also been dozens of circuit court cases, a new regime at the Department of Labor, and numerous arbitration awards.

Schwartz does an impressive job incorporating these changes. He has also made substantial revisions especially with regard to explaining employee eligibility requirements, the medical certification process, and employee to employer notification duties. His endnotes, which alert readers to official FMLA documents and are extremely useful in winning grievances, have more than doubled from 87 to 182.

This new edition comes at a critical time politically. While the FMLA has always been contentious—it was debated for 8 years, voted on 13 times in congress, vetoed twice by George W.H. Bush and passed by Clinton a month after becoming president—battle lines are being redrawn. The DOL has included FMLA revisions on its official regulatory agenda for the coming year. Employer organizations are hoping this opens the door for numerous rollbacks. For years they have pressured the Bush administration to limit what health conditions should be covered (changing the requirement of 3 days of incapacity to 10 days), to restrict how workers can use it (making workers use FMLA in 4-hour blocks instead of 1 hour or less), and to allow management greater access to medical information (contacting an employee's healthcare provider directly).

While this book does not delve into the current political battles, educators can use it to increase awareness of what is at stake. According to the most recent comprehensive study, slightly more than half of American workers had even heard of the FMLA, and only 22% of those covered believe the law applies to them. In contrast 85% of covered employers know it applies to their establishments. While it is hoped that more workers have learned of their rights since the study was conducted in 2000, a lack of awareness is a major vulnerability in winning the fight to protect it.

Schwartz provides proponents of family leave with some ammunition to expand the law at the state level, something that is greatly needed since only 55% of the workforce is covered because companies with 50 or fewer workers are exempt. He includes a comprehensive and up-to-date outline of state legislative provisions that provide workers greater leave rights than the FMLA. [End Page 82]

Although this book is written as a resource for union representatives, it is extremely useful to labor educators. Not only does it provide a thorough overview of FMLA's current legal status and application, the book is loaded with materials that can be easily adapted for nuts-and...


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Print ISSN
pp. 81-83
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2007
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