Senators Reach Compromise on Family Leave Bill

From Associated Press

Senate Democrats and Republicans said Wednesday that they had reached a compromise on a bill assuring workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family emergencies, pressuring President Bush to accept revisions in the measure he vetoed last year.

Sens. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said they agreed on a series of changes weakening the bill's coverage to make it more acceptable to business groups that have long opposed it.

A White House spokesman said Bush remains opposed. But supporters hope that the changes will draw enough support to give the bill the two-thirds majorities needed in the House and Senate to override Bush's threatened veto.

Dodd said the compromise "sets the stage for an overwhelming bipartisan vote."

But business opponents were unmoved. They said they would continue to oppose the Family and Medical Leave Act as an onerous requirement that would force employers to hire expensive replacement workers and expose the employers to potential litigation.

Bond said the compromise reflected an attempt to address business concerns. He predicted that it would attract "significant" new Senate support.

The bill would require employers to grant unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks for workers caring for new children or ill relatives. The House and Senate passed a similar version last year, but the House fell 54 votes short of the number needed to override Bush's veto.

The latest compromise expands exemptions for businesses. Earlier versions applied only to employers with 50 or more workers, thus eliminating 95% of all employers and more than half of all employees, supporters said.

Bond's compromise would go beyond that to allow employers who are covered to exempt "key employees," defined as the highest-paid 10% of the work force.

It also would increase the restriction on part-time workers who are eligible. They would have to work a minimum of 1,250 hours in a year, or an average of 24 hours a week--an increase from the earlier bill's 1,000 hours a year.

The change also would reduce sanctions on employers who fail to rehire workers after a leave. The new sanctions would parallel the existing Fair Labor Standards Act, which provides for payment of double damages and has provisions for administrative hearings.

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