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Jewish Groups Hail Passage of Family Leave Measure

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Jewish organizations have hailed congressional adoption of the Family and Medical Leave Act and urged President Bush to sign the measure into law.

Bush has threatened to veto the legislation, which requires employers to give workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family and personal medical emergencies.

The bill was adopted Sept. 10 by the House of Representatives by a vote of 241- 161. The Senate had passed the bill in a voice vote last month.

Endorsing the measure as a means of supporting the family against the pressures of the workplace were the American Jewish Congress, B!nai B’rith Women and the National Council of Jewish Women.

The bill represents a compromise from earlier versions and provides greater flexibility for employers, AJCongress President Robert Lifton said in a letter to Bush.

“While I am aware of your concern with federally mandated benefits,” Lifton wrote the president, “I know that you would agree that the federal government has a responsibility to address serious societal problems.”

The act covers businesses with 50 or more employees, which account for 5 percent of all companies and about 50 percent of the nation’s workforce.

He said the annual cost to employers as a result of the legislation was estimated at $330 million.

“Surely a $5 trillion U.S. economy can afford this investment” in strong American families, said Lifton. Moreover, the measure would make it possible to retain experienced employees who might otherwise be forced to leave the workforce.

Recent studies have demonstrated that providing family and medical leave “is much more cost-effective than hiring permanent replacements for workers who need leave,” Lifton said.

A priority for parents in the workforce is job-protected leave, said Joan Bronk, president of the National Council of Jewish Women, who termed the new measure a “desperately needed” pro-family bill.

In interviews with 944 salaried women who had recently given birth, 90 percent rated paid days to care for a sick child the benefit they most wanted in the workplace, said Bronk, citing a 1986 study by the council’s Center for the Child.

Data collected from 2,000 employers representing 4,000 groups of workers, or 4.5 million employees, found that two out of three groups of workers receive no job-protected family leave.

Similar emphasis was placed on strengthening the family in a statement by Joan Kort, president of B’nai B’rith Women.

“BBW believes that employees should have the option of taking unpaid leave to bond with a new child or sit at the bedside of a sick family member without worrying about losing their job,” said Kort.

Studies have shown that companies which offer leave benefits profit from the policy because their employees are more likely to be loyal and productive, she said.

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