– The Associated Press
BOSTON – House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi marked the 20th anniversary of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act in Boston by pushing for federal legislation that would require businesses to allow up to seven paid sick days a year.
The 1993 law offers 12 weeks of unpaid leave, which workers can use to care for a new baby or sick family member or to recover from an illness.
The law applies to workers hired by companies with 50 or more employees, who work more than 1,250 hours a year and who have been on the job for at least a year. Labor activists say that excludes more than half the workforce.
Pelosi said federal laws should guarantee that workers can earn paid time off.
“It’s not just about women, it’s about families,” Pelosi said Monday. “Many men take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act.”
Pelosi, a U.S. representative from California, is pushing for a national standard that would let workers earn up to seven paid sick days each year. She said 40 million Americans have no paid sick days, forcing them to work while they are ill or forfeit income.
State lawmakers are pushing their own bill that would let workers earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. They said the bill would extend the protection of paid time off to nearly a million people in Massachusetts now without it.
Critics of efforts to require paid time off say small businesses don’t need an added financial burden when the nation is still trying to recover from the recession.
Pelosi also said Monday that she was confident the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The court will take up the law Wednesday.
“Those families should have the full protection of the law,” Pelosi said, referring to gay married couples who have been denied federal benefits.
Speaking to reporters after the event, Pelosi faulted the U.S. Senate for voting to strip away part of President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law.
Last week, the Senate voted 79-20 to repeal a 2.3 percent sales tax on medical devices such as catheters, pacemakers and MRI machines. The tax was intended to help to finance coverage for the uninsured that starts next year.
Among those voting to eliminate the tax were Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth Warren and William “Mo” Cowan, both Democrats. Medical device companies, which employ nearly 24,000 people in Massachusetts, have said the tax would be an added financial burden on the companies and would threaten jobs.
Pelosi said the tax was actually a compromise between the House and Senate. The Senate initially wanted a higher tax, she said.
Pelosi also declined to say which Democratic candidate she prefers in the state’s special Senate contest.
Pelosi said both Democratic hopefuls – U.S. Reps. Stephen Lynch and Edward Markey – are “valued members of the Congress.” She said Markey has been a leader on environmental issues, and Lynch has been active in national security.
Markey, however, helped provide a key vote for Pelosi, then House speaker, when he backed Obama’s health care law. Lynch voted against it.