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U.S. News Archive
May 07 - May 13, 2001



This page contains news for the period May 07, 2001 through May 13, 2001.  

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Sunday, May 13, 2001

Unwed employees feel shortchanged by workplace 'family oriented' policies 

A story published today by the San Francisco Chronicle reports that in recent years, singles have become more vocal about what they perceive as unfair treatment by employers.  The story mention AASP's Singles-Friendly Workplace Campaign.

Single rights advocates argue that unmarried workers make up roughly 40 percent of the nation's full-time workforce and should be able to enjoy the same health-care benefits, tax breaks and other perks that married people enjoy.

Last year, author Elinor Burkett took up the fight for singles equity in her book, "The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless." No Kidding!, a nonprofit social club for childless singles and couples, also is growing in popularity across the country. The group does not promote a particular agenda, but its founding non-father, Jerry Steinberg, has strong opinions about how employers "seem to be bending over backward trying to please child-burdened workers."

According to employment experts, companies are now creating workplaces that caters to everyone.

A survey conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management found that one in five companies allows employees to bring children to work in emergencies, and 17 percent offer child care referral services. Three percent of firms surveyed provide on-site child care.

At the same time, employers are not simply catering to families, but offering a wide array of options for workers who are single, single parents or living with a domestic partner.

"While employers are trying to be more sensitive to those with families, ultimately what they're trying to get at is work-life balance," said Kristin Bowl, spokeswoman for the Society of Human Resource Management, an Alexandria, Va., association of human resource professionals. "That is a benefit that's helpful for those with families and those without."

"They're trying to be inclusive, flexible and trying to provide choices," she said. "It's not a perfect world, but the awareness is growing."

Thomas Coleman, an attorney and executive director of the American Association for Single People, said his goal is to spread the word to even more employers. The association, a nonprofit organization that promotes equal rights for unmarried adults, couples, parents and families, has embarked on a singles-friendly campaign to explain some of the ways in which singles are discriminated against.

Single workers typically pay higher taxes and receive fewer job benefits than their married counterparts, according to Coleman. Employers, he said, should implement "cafeteria-style" benefits, which allow workers to choose benefits that meet their individual needs - regardless of their living arrangements.

Fortunately for singles, Coleman said more companies are beginning to adopt a different approach.

"Some of them (companies) went overboard a bit in stressing so heavily family and children to the point where there's been some type of a backlash," said Coleman, who met with Congressional leaders in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.

ayyoub.jpg (34117 bytes)Mayid "Mickey" Ayyoub, who lives with a female domestic partner in Sausalito, said that government, private and public companies should be doing more to help singles get their fair share.  (Ayyoub's photo appears to the left.)

Ayyoub, who is a member of the American Association for Single People, made headlines locally about four years ago when he filed a complaint against the city of Oakland for denying health benefits to his partner, Sandra Washburn.

At the time, the city had a policy offering medical benefits to city employees' same-sex partners. The city eventually changed its policy in 1998 to include heterosexual domestic partners.

"Oakland had been enlightened about domestic-partner status," said Ayyoub, 37. "It is a lifestyle that has to be respected. Just because marriage is there, it shouldn't impact a domestic partner lifestyle. We are real people with real lifestyles, and we want real respect."

Equity in the workplace is important, said Donna Lenhoff, general counsel for the National Partnership for Women and Families in Washington, D.C. However, many singles are missing the point about what family means, she said. "Single people are also members of families. They may not have spouses or children, but single people have parents and grandparents who often need care. They're often quite involved in family responsibilities."

Although Melanie Dowe, 38, decided not to have children of her own, she agrees that employers should support family-friendly policies. Dowe, senior vice president of a global marketing research company in San Francisco, and her husband, Robert Van Poederooyen, started a San Francisco/East Bay chapter of No Kidding! a year ago to meet other childless couples.

"In my personal experience, I've not experienced that kind of inequity," Dowe said. "Several of us believe those policies should be in place.

"The role of parents is a difficult one, and we admire people that want to be parents. Workplaces have to recognize family issues in order to keep good employees."

Saturday, May 12, 2001

Tennessee judges clash over divorce rulings

A story published today by the Tenessean reports that Tennessee Circuit Judge Russ Heldman of Franklin is firing back at Tennessee Court of Appeals Judge William Koch in their running disagreement over how hard it should be to get a divorce.

The Court of Appeals has reversed several rulings in which Heldman took an old-fashioned view of ''the sanctity of marriage'' and ruled against husbands who, he felt, had mistreated their wives.

In one sharply worded opinion, Koch said that Heldman had let his ''personal notions of moral rectitude'' override the best interests of a Lewis County couple's children when he denied visitation rights to the father as punishment for leaving his wife for another woman.

Heldman balked last week at declaring a Williamson County couple divorced, as the Court of Appeals had ordered him to do, and the Court of Appeals responded Monday with an order staying further proceedings on the case in Heldman's court.

That prompted a 14-page order from Heldman, reiterating his reasons for leaving a paralyzed woman's marriage intact -despite her husband's demand for a divorce - and accusing Koch of being so ''biased and prejudiced'' that he should not hear  any more appeals from Heldman's court.

The case at issue is Clark Matthew Earls' attempt to divorce his wife, Shirley Ann Earls, who was left paralyzed by an aneurysm in1997. Shirley Earls has said she wants to stay married and on her husband's health insurance plan, even though she acknowledges they can no longer live together.

Heldman ruled in 1999 that Clark Earls was not entitled to a divorce on grounds of inappropriate marital conduct because there was no proof that Shirley Earls had done anything wrong. But the Court of Appeals reversed Heldman last June in a 2-1 decision written by Koch. The Tennessee Supreme Court decided in March not to get involved in the case, and it was sent back to Heldman with instructions to declare the couple divorced.

Koch wrote last June that Heldman mistakenly viewed himself as ''the protector of the institution of marriage'' when he refused to grant Clark Earls' request for a divorce. Koch said that state law no longer favors ''condemning two persons to loveless marital unions'' once a marriage is ''irretrievably broken.''

''While Ms. Earls had no control over the fact that she was injured, she did have control over how she treated Mr. Earls,'' Koch wrote.

All three members of the Court of Appeals panel said that Heldman had exceeded his authority when he ordered Clark Earls not to ''come around'' his baby sitter, ''period,'' as long as he was married. (Clark Earls said he had developed a nonsexual relationship with the woman, whom he had asked to care for the couple's then 7-year-old son.)

But Court of Appeals Judge William Cain issued a dissenting opinion in which he said that Koch and Judge Patricia Cottrell, the third member of the panel, had to stretch to find that Shirley Earls was at fault in any way.

Heldman said in the order he issued Wednesday that he was still considering whether to declare the couple divorced. The Court of Appeals has not yet acted on Clark Earls' lawyer's request that it simply go ahead and grant the divorce on its own.

''My client does not have a lot of money,'' Clark Earls' lawyer, Robyn Ryan, said yesterday. ''I do not want to waste his money or time. I am just trying to get him divorced.''

Both Heldman and Koch declined to comment, citing the judicial canons of ethics, when they were contacted by a reporter yesterday afternoon.

Higher divorce rate for women with serious illness

A story released today by Reuters reports that men are more likely to leave their spouses with cancerous brain tumors, a U.S. researcher said on Saturday.

Dr. Michael Glantz said a study of 214 patients with brain tumors showed that women were eight times more likely than men to experience a marital separation or divorce and that men usually initiated the split.

Glantz, a neuro-oncologist at the University of Massachusetts, said it was ``very alarming'' to find that men were leaving their wives at a time when they needed support to cope with a deadly illness.

Patients with the type of brain tumor studied are likely to live only about a year after diagnosis.

Glantz said he had not yet evaluated the reasons behind the marital break-ups, but he gave most men the benefit of the doubt that ``it's not because they are nasty people.''

``Women seem to be more willing or more adept at nurturing their husbands through an illness, while men are not as skilled at doing the same for their
wives,'' he said.

Marriages were more likely to end when patients' tumors caused frontal lobe disease, a condition that causes people to lose motivation and attentiveness. ``It's really hard to put up with,'' Glantz told reporters attending a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

A marital split ``really changes your ability to treat a patient,'' Glantz added. Patients living on their own may not have transportation to an appointment or might fear undergoing treatment that would make them too tired to run their households alone.

Glantz also studied divorce rates among patients with other illnesses.

In 107 patients with multiple sclerosis, women were nearly seven times more likely than men to become divorced or separated. And among 193 patients with other cancers, women were 12 times more likely to have that outcome.

Additional studies are underway to see whether counseling or something else might help marriages endure in the face of serious illnesses. ``We don't think this has to be set in stone. We are going to see if we can intervene early to prevent
 that,'' Glantz said.

Friday, May 11, 2001

Manhattan school's decision to ban Mother's and Father's day sparks mixed reactions

A story released today by ABC News reports that a lot has changed in the structure of the American family since President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday of  May Mother's Day on 1914. So when a Manhattan school "banned" Mother's - and Father's - Day earlier this week, it kicked up a furor, with  an article published in the New York Post.

Parents of children at the Rodeph Sholom Day School, the daily reported, were in an uproar over the new policy, which was aimed at protecting the feelings of children raised by same-sex couples.

The "ban" was a case of political correctness running amok, the paper suggested, and opponents of the move, such as Stanley Kurtz, a columnist at the National Review, called it an attack on the very  institution of motherhood.

"Give me a break," said Meema Spadola, director of the public television documentary, Our House: A Very Real Document About Kids of Gay and Lesbian Parents, and daughter of a lesbian mother. "I  think their heart is in the right place, but instead of getting rid of Mother's Day, it would have been a terrific opportunity to use it instead to describe different family structures."

Certainly the American family is not what it used to be. Approximately 30 years ago, a traditional household meant a dad, mom and the children. Today, over half of all American children do not live in so-called traditional two-parent nuclear families.

According to Congressional Research Service reports, nearly 500,000 American children live in foster care at any one time and approximately a million children in the United States live with adoptive parents.

Estimates of children of gay, lesbian and bisexual parents in the United States vary from 6 to 10 million according to COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere).

Some experts believe that for these children, doing away with Mother's and Father's Day celebrations at school may be a step in the right direction.

"I'm surprised that there's such a backlash because it's not about political correctness, it's about  sensitivity," said Laura Benkov, child psychologist and author of Reinventing the Family (Crown, 1994).

Benkov believes that besides children of same sex parents, the move also benefits children who have lost a parent.

But Jerald Newberry, executive director of the National Education Association Health Information Network, disagreed. "Assignments that allow children to express their thoughts and emotions can be healing," he said. "I don't think educators traumatize children by giving them an opportunity to write letters to people who care about them."

The problem for educators, said Newberry, is the baggage of value systems and prejudices children bring from home.

The growing numbers of single parents - mostly mothers - many of whom work two jobs, also means parents and guardians have less time to spend with their kids, Newberry says, and impart early but crucial social and communication skills.

Given that it's tougher world in American homes, which makes it a tougher world in American schools, Newberry believes any move towards sensitizing the school environment is a positive one.

"If you see the basis of school violence, it is tied to name calling and bullying, which comes out of ignorance," he said. "I think that this school is trying very hard to be sensitive to the changing population in schools."

Wednesday, May 9, 2001

North Carolina leaders push for minimum wage increase to assist working poor

A story released today by the New & Records reports that  a group of North Carolina Democratic legislators and advocates for the poor are urging and requesting state lawmakers to increase the state minimum wage and create a state earned income tax credit to assist the working poor.

"It is time that North Carolina helped its low-wage workers and raised the minimum wage to a living wage," state Rep. Alma Adams, D-Guilford, said during a news conference.

Adams has filed a bill that would raise the minimum wage in North Carolina from $5.15 an hour to $8.50 over the next three years. It is one of three bills addressing a state-imposed minimum wage and earned income tax credit.

Other legislation would create a state earned income tax credit, allowing poor working families to receive an additional tax break that could reach as much as $388. The credit would be based on the federal earned income tax credit, which a maximum credit of $3,888 is allowed for a family with two children.

A third bill would begin a legislative study of a "living income" to examine issues of pay and living expenses for the working poor. It is generally considered to have the best chance of approval.

Perri Morgan, state director of the National Federation for Independent Business, said an $8.50 minimum wage is unrealistic. She said a minimum wage increase would hurt teenagers, seasonal workers and the businesses that rely on them.

Sorien Schmidt, an attorney with the N.C. Justice and Community Development Center, cited statistics that indicate a third of North Carolinians who file income tax returns don't earn a "living wage."

Her group, which lobbies on behalf of the poor, defines a living wage as $22,600 for a single parent with a child living in an urban area. For a single parent in a rural area, it's defined as $18,050.

Gov. Mike Easley, on the other hand, proposed additional accountability measures for Smart Start, the state's early childhood initiative.

"I want to maintain as much local flexibility as possible to meet the different needs in each of the counties, but our people deserve accountability," Easley said.

Smart Start provides or helps fund many services for children from birth through age 5 -- including subsidies for day care and preschool programs.

Arizona governor repeals sex law

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the Arizona law on unmarried couples living together, sodomy and sex not intended to conceive children are no longer crimes against the state.

Gov. Jane Hull signed the HB 2016 Tuesday, repealing the archaic sex laws.

"Fundamentally, it came down to government not interfering in people's lives," Hull spokeswoman Francie Noyes said when announcing the decision.

"The governor and I agree that the state has no compelling interest in the lives of consenting adults," said Rep. Steve May, R-Paradise Valley, who sponsored the repeal bill.

"This has been a debate in the Legislature for the last 20 years," May said."This ends the debate. Anybody that tries to proactively put them back onto the books will be laughed out of office."

The Center for Arizona Policy, a Scottsdale-based conservative advocacy group, encouraged people to call or e-mail Hull and ask her to veto the bill, leading to an avalanche of messages.

"We're extremely disappointed," Cathi Herrod, an attorney and lobbyist for the center, said. "It's another step in devaluing marriage as the foundation of our society."

Rep. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, said Hull's decision puts the state's stamp of approval on activities she disagrees with.

"For the state to now say to everyone, including young people, that there's nothing wrong with this, from the policy standpoint it's just as wrong as can be," Johnson said.

As of Monday, the governor had received more than 5,700 phone calls and e-mails offering suggestions about what she should do.

"I think the pressure and the high feelings on both sides has been out-of-bounds as far as the importance of the legislation versus what it really does," Hull said Tuesday morning during a visit to Tucson. "I think that we've had a lot of people who are very focused on that while I think about 98 percent of the state probably does not even know the bill exists."

In a letter to House Speaker Jim Weiers, Hull said the sex laws are not enforced and cannot be enforced.

"Keeping archaic laws on the books does not promote high moral standards; instead, it teaches the lesson that laws are made to be broken," she said.

"Moral standards are set by families and those they turn to for guidance, such as religious and community leaders. We learn much more from watching their behavior than from any written laws or rules."


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