Melissa Harris-Perry | February 10, 2013
>>> despite being 20 years old, the family and medical leave act fails to cover all american workers. some 40% of the country's work force is ineligible for medical leave protections because they work for companies with fewer protections. they work fewer than 25 hours a week and 50% of workers report not being able to take the leave time. can't afford to go 12 weeks unpaid. these protections are not extended for caring for a loved one in a same-sex partnership. one of the people who helped make the family and medical leave act a reality is with us now. ellen working from 9:00 to 5:00. the national association of working women in 1982 when she helped organize the push for the leave act. she is now the director of the family values work and joining us from madison, wisconsin. so nice to have you, ellen .
>> pleasure to be here. thanks a lot. this is the month we celebrate fmla but remind us what it doesn't do.
>> we put family values on work.org and lots of people were celebrating because they were able to be with a newborn or a child that fell into a syndrome that made her deaf or hold the hand of a spouse or a parent to let them recover at home or to ease their passing. there were literally tens of millions of workers who benefited. 2/5 of the work force are left out. for every five people who needed leave took it.
>> this feels like a consensus legislative position. i want to listen to president clinton saying about how important this particular piece of legislation is when he meets folks. let's listen to him here.
>> people desperately want to have successful families to be good parents and have a job and succeed at it. if you take one away to get the other, the country pays a price and every life is diminished. it's really what this is all about. i've had more people mention the family leave law to me both while i was in the white house and in the 12 years since i have been gone than any other single piece of legislation i have signed.
>> here is this point where you can make the family values argument and make the kind of social safety net argument at the same time. shouldn't this be where we can make serious progress in extending fmla ?
>> you would think. as president clinton said it was a common sense measure then and now. to do what he said, expand it. laws aren't monuments, they are meant to change is what he said the other day when we celebrated. the problem, partisanship and corporate lobbyists. this was a bipartisan jobs bill. we have a lot of republican support. today it's difficult to do that. we theneed to tell republicans we have a movement that is powerful enough that you have to listen to us. that's what our coalitions are doing across the country.
>> it's important that we point out when fmla passed, 163 congressmen in the house that voted against it. 20 years later, 19 of those guys are still in the house and every last one of them is a white man. it does feel to me like in this country right now, with an increasing number of women working with more people of color who may not have as many resources. we know the white americans had in the question of wealth. this is a place where you could really start talking about coalition building. how does that happen on the ground to pressure these 19 and other folks?
>> the great thing about our coalition is it affects women and people of color . you can see that in our coalitions. they include restaurant workers and restaurant owners. they include people fighting domestic violence . one of the bills we are fighting for in addition to affordable family leave and expanding access to family leave is paid sick days. that includes safe days so people can seek shelter and press charges and take care of themselves and their families while experiencing and recovering from violence. we see people who want to fight poverty and asthma. they understand they have a stake in people being healthy, people having strong families who they love and being able to take care of those families by supporting them and paying the bills.
>> i love the point. one last point, i am part of the sandwich generation , not just about caring for young children, but caring for our elderly. how do we start moving toward legislation that recognizes the needs of children to take care of their parents, not only their own children?
>> family leave includes care for parents. it doesn't include care for grandparents, siblings and same-sex partners. we need to make it real making it affordable. it's one of the things when people say i needed leave but didn't take it, it's one of the things they give up as well as giving up their own surgery or going back four days after giving birth. i urge your viewers to go to our website to see how they can get involved winning in cities and states, we are going lay the basis for winning new national legislation that will make it affordable and real for all families in the united states .
>> thank you to ellen . i appreciate you there in madison, wisconsin. you didn't just get this legislation passed and say look, i did it. you stayed. i appreciate that.
>> thank you, too.
>>> just ahead, valentine's day, we are going to talk about the first marriage and the lessons from the obama love