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Archive for June 18th, 2013

Missing Bernice

Deep inside the administrative bureaucracy, from Brazil, Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film.

One of the only good legacies of the Clinton presidency is the Family Medical Leave Act, which insures that workers are allowed time off work for medical care, whether for themselves or for family members.

Of course, the Act fell short because it did not say that employers must offer paid leave for this, and as most working class people cannot afford to take time off without pay, it in effect was an act that only benefited the rich.

And, ahem, union members. I am deeply grateful that one benefit of my membership in the Union is that I am guaranteed paid FMLA leave. This, when too many hard working people get no paid sick leave, just another example of the sin that cries to heaven for vengeance.

I have used paid FMLA numerous times since its inception: caring for my mother at various times toward the end of her life, time off to recuperate from my own surgeries, and, not least, caring for my wife and children during and after childbirth. I always take two weeks off at the birth of a child.

Until this baby all that entailed was calling Bernice at the Postal Service in Akron in the, ugh, “Human Resources” department.

But a year or two back, Bernice’s job was eliminated and the process was “streamlined”; ie, became something one must do online or by phone.

So I tried to apply for the requisite papers. As I only rarely visit the online postal site I could not find my PIN number. Not a problem, right? And sure enough they had a “forgot your pin number” pop-up, which I clicked only to see the screen read “this operation not available”.

I tried again, for several days, and always met the same impasse. So I asked my benevolent supervisor, Eric, and he gave me a phone number to call.

I called, and got the usual computer voice. I entered my employee ID number as required, only to get the response that this number was invalid. after about an hour of running the online gaunlet I finally spoke to a human being. I told him my dilemma and he hit the same roadblock. He told me to ask my supervisor to request the paperwork.

Which I did. A few days later I received a letter informing me that my request for FMLA, which I had not yet submitted, had been denied. When I told Eric he once again pulled the levers and sure enough, in a few days an application finally arrived.

I filled out the data that I was supposed to and Michelle took the doctor’s part to her next visit with her obstetrician.

About a week later, after Michelle had called to ask if she could fax the doctor’s papers, we received a call from a woman at the Department of Labor, which handles FMLA claims.

My request was denied because we did not meet the June 10 deadline (how long the doctor takes to submit the form is quite beyond our control).

Further, because the request was for late August, it had also been denied because it had been submitted too early.

Did you get that? We were too late, and also too early.

The woman, who was quite pleasant, did not in the least understand that this was ludicrous.

Such is bureaucracy.

Once again my preference for localism, for human scale, was confirmed. I am sure that this will all work out, that I will in the end be paid for my leave time, to care for my bride and children after the birth of this baby.

But boy, I miss Bernice.

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