Bakers Union member helps pass Oregon bereavement leave law

Gov. John Kitzhaber signed House Bill 2950 into law on June 13. The new law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014, adds bereavement leave to the Oregon Family Leave Act.

Bakers Union member Robin Zimmerman with Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber.
Bakers Union member Robin Zimmerman with Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber.

The new law is the result of years of work by Robin Zimmerman, a 33-year rank-and-file member of Bakers Local 114 who works at Bimbo Oroweat in Beaverton.

Zimmerman became politically active in 2008, following the death of his wife to cancer.  Her death impacted him and their young daughter deeply. Zimmerman was fortunate to have strong support from his employer, his union, and from co-workers, but it opened his eyes to the fact that the standard leave for mourning among employers is just three days.

From his experience, Zimmerman realized three days away from work just wasn’t enough. The initial shock can leave families unable to function with their daily lives.

As reported in the Labor Press in February 2011, Zimmerman remembered reading an article about an expansion of the Oregon Family Leave Act. “Why couldn’t bereavement be included in that law?” he asked himself. Zimmerman consulted with the head of the Bakers Union, Terry Lansing, about how to get a bill in the Legislature. He did some research on the Oregon Family Leave Act, then called his state senator.

Zimmerman told the Labor Press many people he talked to were unaware that bereavement leave wasn’t covered under the act — state or federal.

His first attempt to change the law fell short in the 2011 Legislature, passing in the Senate, but failing to get a hearing in the House. But defeat wasn’t an option. He returned this session with a new bill, carried by Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer (D-Portland) in the House, and by Sen. Fred Girod (R-Stayton) in the Senate. It passed the House 40-18 and won in the Senate 22-6.

The new law amends the Oregon Family Leave Act to allow a worker in a firm with 25 or more employees to take up to two weeks of unpaid leave to deal with the death of a family member. This includes attending the funeral (or alternative) of a family member; making arrangements necessitated by the death of a family member; or grieving the death of the family member.

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