Ahead of 30th Anniversary of FMLA, Duckworth and Casten Re-Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Help Ensure Education Support Professionals Can Access FMLA Benefits
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)—landmark legislation that guaranteed a segment of the workforce unpaid leave to care for their newborns and sick loved ones—U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Sean Casten (D-IL-06) are reintroducing the bipartisan ESP and School Support Staff Family Leave Act to help expand the FMLA and ensure it covers the 2.7 million education support professionals (ESPs) who are currently blocked from accessing FMLA benefits.
“No one should have to choose between their job and caring for a sick child or family member—including our nation’s educational support professionals,” said Senator Duckworth. “As we get ready to mark the 30th anniversary of the FMLA, I’m proud to re-introduce the bipartisan ESP and School Support Staff Family Leave Act with Congressman Casten so we can work to close the loopholes that prevent many educational support staff from accessing basic, hard-earned benefits through the FMLA.”
“The Education Support Professionals and School Support Staff Family Leave Act will expand family and medical leave for the 2.7 million janitorial staff, food service workers, bus drivers, clerical support staff and other public school employees that currently don’t have access to FMLA benefits,” said Congressman Casten. “This gap in coverage means that many of critical staff that we trust to help feed, transport or teach our students are unable to access basic benefits without risk of losing their job. As we continue to make our workplaces more equitable, improving and expanding the FMLA to cover our education support staff is essential.”
Right now, as a result of their schedules and the limited school year, many ESPs—including clerical support professionals, maintenance workers, janitorial staff, food service employees, bus drivers and others—fail to meet the 1,250-hour threshold needed to qualify for unpaid leave under the FMLA. The ESP and School Support Staff Family Leave Act would correct this by finally updating the FMLA to close this gap in federal law so that many of those we entrust to help feed, transport and teach our students are better able to access the basic leave benefits they deserve without the risk of losing their job.
The bipartisan ESP and School Support Staff Family Leave Act would build on a provision enacted in 2009—which helped more airline flight crews receive FMLA benefits—and update the FMLA so that all ESPs who work more than 60 percent of the total monthly hours expected for their specific role are able to access benefits.
Expanding family leave is a major priority for Duckworth. She first introduced her ESP family leave legislation in May 2019 and it was referred to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Just this week, Duckworth called for better leave policies in this country and advocated for her ESP and School Support Staff Family Leave Act at a press conference with her colleagues. In 2021, Duckworth helped introduce the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act to create a permanent, national paid family and medical leave program. Last year, Duckworth introduced the bicameral Support Through Loss Act to raise awareness about pregnancy loss and establish new paid leave benefits for Americans experiencing painful challenges while seeking to grow their family.
A copy of the bill one-pager can be found here.
Along with Duckworth, this legislation is co-sponsored in the Senate by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Along with Casten, this legislation is co-sponsored in the House by U.S. Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01), Colin Allred (D-TX-32), Nanette Barragán (D-CA-44), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-01) Cori Bush (D-MO-01), Andre Carson (D-IN-07), Angie Craig (D-MN-02), Jasmine Crockett (D-TX-30), Madeleine Dean (D-PA-04), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-03), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA-10), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL-04), Jimmy Gomez (D-CA-34), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ-03), Jahana Hayes (D-CT-05), Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC-At Large), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA-06), Jared Huffman (D-CA-02), Stephen Lynch (D-MA-08), Jim McGovern (D-MA-02), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-12), Chellie Pingree (D-ME-01), Mark Pocan (D-WI-02), Andrea Salinas (D-OR-06), Linda Sánchez (D-CA-46), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-07), Adam Smith (D-WA-09), Dina Titus (D-NV-01), David Trone (D-MD-06), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY-07), Nikema Williams (D-GA-05) and Frederica Wilson (D-FL-17).
The legislation is endorsed by the National Education Association (NEA), Service Employees International Union, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Paid Leave for All, the National Partnership for Women & Families, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).
Additionally, the NEA’s 2022 Education Support Professional of the Year is Debra Ward-Mitchell, an Illinois educator and Assistant Director of the Thornton Township High School District 205 Infant Care Center. Ward-Mitchell is also advocating for Duckworth’s legislation.
“In every community across the nation our education support professionals are critical to helping all our students, no matter their color, background and ZIP code, learn and grow into their full brilliance,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “But too many of the professionals that support our students learning, drive our school busses, ensure our students have nutritious meals, ensure school buildings are safe and clean, and so much more are unable to access basic leave benefits without risk of losing their job due to a gap in federal law. That is why educators are applauding Senator Tammy Duckworth and Representative Sean Casten for reintroducing the ESP and School Support Staff Family Leave Act, which would ensure more ESPs are able to recover from a medical emergency, care for a newborn baby, or support a sick family member by updating the Family and Medical Leave Act.”
“As Education Support Professionals, we are determined to ensure our students are equipped with the tools they need to reach their full potential,” said Ward-Mitchell. “It is unfortunate that Education Support Professionals, who serve those students and are integral in student success, are not treated the same. The federal eligibility for FMLA disqualifies thousands of Education Support Professionals. No one should lose their job to care for their sick child, spouse or to recover from a major illness or accident. As essential workers, Education Support Professionals provide unwavering commitment to our students. This legislation is so very important to ensure we can continue our commitment after an illness or accident. Our government needs to make sure Education Support Professionals are supported in the workplace by having a job to come back to.”
“Every day at the AFT we fight to ensure working families have what they need to thrive,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “The ability to take time off and care for a sick family member or cope with one’s own illness without losing a job is central to so many families being able to make it in the economy. Yet one in three public school staff lack access to the protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Sean Casten’s ESP and School Support Family Leave Act, rights this wrong by extending FMLA coverage to school support staff. I urge Congress to pass it. No classroom assistant, bus driver or school secretary should be in a situation where a pregnancy or an illness means financial ruin. While we celebrate three decades of the FMLA and remain undaunted in our commitment to finally achieving federal paid family leave, improving the FMLA is absolutely essential.”
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