White House Faces Life with Labor Laws: Senate Passes Bill to End Exemption

Article excerpt

On the campaign trail this fall, President Clinton rarely fails to tout the Family and Medical Leave Act, the 1993 law giving workers unpaid time off for family emergencies.

Now he's going to have to obey it.

In one of the last acts of the adjourning 104th Congress, the Senate broke a logjam and approved a bill last night that would for the first time extend the family-leave law and 10 other workplace and civil rights laws to employees of the Executive Office of the President.

Mr. Clinton is expected to sign the bill, which is significantly watered down from a version that passed the House on a 410-5 vote Sept. 24.

In the first law passed by the Republican-led Congress in January 1995, lawmakers agreed to apply the same 11 measures to their own employees.

"If we are going to have a law, the law ought to apply to everybody in the land," said Sen. Daniel R. Coats, Indiana Republican and sponsor of the Senate bill.

The voice vote came at the end of an eventful final session for the Senate, which began with the breaking of a four-day filibuster waged by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and other pro-union Democrats of a major aviation-safety bill. The session included a last-minute compromise resurrecting a measure to expand and improve more than 100 parks, historical sites and other landmarks in 41 states.

Mr. Kennedy objected to a provision in the Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill that would make it harder for truckers at delivery giant Federal Express to unionize, but many of his fellow Democrats joined in the 66-31 vote to end the debate and pass the popular bill.

The House, which concluded its major business Saturday, must hold a pro forma session today to consider an amended bill sent back by the Senate before the first GOP-led Congress in 40 years can officially enter the history books.

Under the White House Accountability Act, pushed in the House by Republicans John L. Mica of Florida and Steve Horn of California, Executive Office of the President employees would be eligible for unpaid time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, shielded from age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, protected from workplace hazards under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and governed by the overtime and minimum-wage regulations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The measure would automatically apply all future labor laws to the White House unless specific employees were exempted.

The White House would issue the implementing regulations, but the bill mandates that the rules be at least as strict as comparable private-sector rules unless the president can justify a weaker standard. …