Vice President Kamala Harris speaks in the East Room of the White House Thursday at an event marking 30 years since the Family and Medical Leave Act. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Lawmakers gathered Thursday to mark the 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act, a landmark piece of legislation U.S. President Joe Biden said affords "dignity and security" to millions of families.
Former President Bill Clinton returned to DC to help Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris celebrate the occasion in the East Room of the White House.
"Let us be clear, in America in the 21st century, every worker should be able to take time off to care for themselves or the people they love," Harris said in opening remarks.
"When they are able, our entire nation benefits," she said. "Consider for example, women are 40% more likely to need family or medical leave because they are more likely to take on caregiving responsibilities, and studies have shown that when women receive the leave ... they are more likely then to stay in the workforce, which means a stronger economy, raising wages for workers overall."
In his remarks, the president thanked the lawmakers who had advocated for the Family Medical Leave Act, citing by name former President Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom he said was "as tenacious an advocate as there ever was for this law."
"Because of the years of work and tenacious advocacy of many of you who are here today," the FML Act has provided "dignity and security for millions of families," Biden said. "Because, finally, finally, for the first time in history, the majority of working Americans [can] take time off work, care for somebody they love, to care for themselves, without fear of losing their job."
Former President Clinton spoke, recounting the feedback he's received since his administration make the act into law in 1993.
"After all these years, I still have more people mention the Family Leave Act to me than any other specific things I did," Bill Clinton said. "And no one talks about what gets all the press coverage -- you know, the political process, how long did it take, who got derailed, what went up, what went down."
Bill Clinton introduced healthcare advocate Natasha Jackson, who shared her personal story of losing her job because of a lack of protections like those in the Family and Medical Leave Act.
"When I was three months pregnant, and the only woman working at a local rental furniture company, I asked my employer if I could do less heavy lifting. I thought it would be an easy ask. Instead I lost my job," said Jackson.
"I was our primary bread-winner at the time, we had just made a down payment on a house, but without my income we had to back out of all of it. We then ended up homeless and needing emergency public housing, all in a matter of months," Jackson said.
"I have two daughters and I also have nieces and I am so grateful that they and millions of workers won't have to choose between starting a family and keeping their jobs," she said.
Biden also touted recent legislation granting further protections to workers, including women who are nursing.
"I'm proud to say that under our administration we've made additional progress. In December, as we mentioned earlier, we passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act," Biden said. "We filled an important gap in federal protection by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women and new moms, like letting them have water breaks, bathroom breaks, sit down to work breaks."
"This event is a moment to recognize the difference that the Family and Medical Leave Act has made and continues to make for millions of Americans, ensuring that they can take up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a new child, a sick family member, or themselves, without risk of losing their jobs or health insurance," Gender Policy Council Director Jennifer Klein, said in a phone call with reporters marking the 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act.
"We'll continue to fight efforts by Republicans in Congress to strip away the historic funding for childcare secured in the year-end omnibus bill, or to use critical policies for working families as bargaining chip," she continued.
At the White House Daily Press Briefing Thursday Klein outlined the legacy of the Family and Medical Leave Act.
"The Family and Medical Leave Act came about after years of work by advocates and members of Congress, including support by President Biden as a senator and from an historic number of women trailblazers in Congress," Klein said.