If unions and the workers they represent prevail the Bush Administration won’t get away with a last minute, back door move to make it harder to take family or medical leave.

The Bush controlled Labor Department had set an April 11 deadline for responses from interested parties to the administration’s plan to weaken the Family Medical Leave Act which became law 15 years ago.

Just in time for the deadline, AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney demanded in a letter to the department that the Bush proposals be withdrawn.

The new rules drafted by the administration make it easier for employers to get their workers’ medical records. At the same time, the rules would make it more difficult for workers to take intermittent leave for short term medical reasons and force workers to go through lengthy procedures to update their eligibility for unpaid leave even for things such as chronic conditions or cancer therapy.

Sweeney described the Bush proposals as “nothing more than a goodbye gift from the president to business interests who have been trying to gut the Family and Medical Leave Act since it was enacted and who now have an eager partner in Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.”

The changes Bush seeks will hurt workers in numerous ways.

Currently, workers can take earned paid leave while they are out under the Family Medical Leave Act. In some states they can collect earned disability insurance payments from state run or company plans. The Bush plan would close off these options, thereby drastically reducing the positive impact of the law on workers in need.

The availability of these options is one of the main factors workers who need the leave consider before actually applying for it.

The Bush proposals will allow employers to get health information from an employee’s doctor without asking the worker’s permission. The current rules require that workers themselves submit documentation of need from their doctors. The AFL-CIO brief submitted to the Department of Labor points out that this change jeopardizes the confidentiality of workers’ medical information and would provide an unscrupulous boss with opportunities to abuse the information when it is received.

The new Bush rules would require workers to visit doctors more often to get the paperwork they need to justify continuing their leave. Many people now take only a day or two of leave per year, for example, because of specific chronic conditions. Those workers would have to visit doctors twice a year, even if they are feeling well, just to certify the continuing existence of their chronic condition. For many, the additional visits mean additional expenses.

“There’s nothing in these proposals that does anything for workers,” Sweeney said. He cited a study done by the Department of Labor, itself, that found family medical leave has little or no effect on business growth, productivity or profitability.

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