IMR: 1998: March: 12 -- Thursday, 11:01 a.m.
Keller Mac Lab, Univ. of Hawai`i-Manoa, Hawai`i
Well, I still don't know if my phone interview with Keali`i Reichel will happen tonight, but I think I've done enough research at Hamilton and online to fill out the article.

For background, I hit Nahenahe.Net and the extensive online archives at the Star-Bulletin. I had to look up the Maui News at the library, since its website was too awful to endure.

For color, I have assorted posts he's made to the local newsgroups, where -- despite the demands of his music career -- he takes the time to educate people on Hawaiiana.

Fortunately, thanks to the miracle of e-mail, I already have some quotes to wrap the stuffing around.

Keali`i is an awesome, cooperative and enthusiastic subject. Most of our correspondence has been lively talkstory about Hawaiian language and culture than an interview. Having seen my name here and there on USENET, he was happy to hear I was looking to make Hawaiian my discipline for my journalism degree.

Woop. Time to meet William for lunch.

Thursday, 3:10 p.m.
Crawford Hall 210, Univ. of Hawai`i-Manoa, Hawai`i

You know, I spend a lot of time in this classroom. These walls are looking a little too familiar.

Anyway, I just realized I forgot to talk about the battle over Jen's job, which I only mentioned last Thursday. Fortunately, now there's a happy ending.

Jen's paid leave was ending, and she was expected to return to the store on Monday. So last week, she called her boss to sort out on which days she'd be working.

Now, before Jen went on leave, her supervisor was so intent on her coming back she promised Jen that they'd be able to set a schedule that would be compatible with mine. That is, letting Jen work hours and days opposite my school and work schedule, eliminating the need for child care and giving Katie the benefit of parent care seven days a week.

Well, now they told Jen that they'd hired some other people to fill in during her absence. As a result, not only would she not get a custom schedule, but she would only be a part-time employee -- thus losing most of her limited benefits.

On the basis of practicality, we were at first the most upset about her schedule. The days they gave her -- save one -- were all the days I wasn't available to serve as daddy.

It meant we suddenly had to start looking for a baby sitter, let alone deal with the thought that our daughter would be in the care of a stranger. In the mean time, I would probably have to skip school and work just so Jen could be on the job when expected and not get fired.

(Leaving a job following extended leave gives employers cause to bill employee to reclaim the cost of benefits provided during the leave. With an epidural alone priced at $803, it wasn't a pleasant thought.)

In the course of trying to figuring out the scheduling nightmare, however, I began to grow curious about what the law had to say about their dropping Jen to part-time. It didn't sound kosher.

I hopped on the web and researched the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

Of course scheduling is always at the discretion of the employer, but the FMLA said straight out that employees -- provided they've been working for at least a year -- must be given the same or equivalent job and benefits when they return from FMLA leave.

I shared my findings with Jen.

"I couldn't get FMLA leave," she said. "They told me I was ineligible because I had only worked at the Kahala store for eight months. I'm techincally on 'disability leave.'"

Hmm. Back to the books.

Turns out the FMLA also states that the required twelve months of service is cumulative. Twelve months total for the same employer, regardless of location or breaks in employment.

Jen previously worked at the Ke`eaumoku store for ten months, giving her an 18-month work history. What's more, she retained the same employee number despite the break and subsequent transfer.

So, worked up over the whole mess, I sat down at the computer and wrote a long, formal letter of complaint. It was quite a piece of work, even if I do say so myself, dripping with legalese and citations. With Jen's blessing, I e-mailed it to her boss.

Within no time, it was in the hands of the parent company in California. When Jen called them the next day, they were well aware of her concerns.

But they insisted the FMLA requirement was not cumulative.

Poor Jen, she had to build her courage to keep insisting they were wrong. She ascended from phone bank peons to supervisors and supervisors' supervisors. Things hit a dead end on Friday, Jen calling me at work, frustrated. She'd already scheduled an appointment at the local Department of Labor office to file a complaint.

I convinced her to call back for one last push, this time using the standard bureaucratic intimidation technique: get names, serial numbers, and -- the Big Whammy -- insisting they put their position in writing.

All was quiet over the weekend. They called back on Monday -- the day Jen was supposed to go back to sorting adult videos and making change.

The company acknowledged that my reading of the FMLA was correct, and that Jen's leave should have been designated as maternity (versus basic disability) leave. Jen got an additional twelve weeks of leave (albeit unpaid), and a guarantee from the parent company that when Jen returns, there will be a full-time position waiting.

As Jen later told her boss, the intent wasn't to stir up trouble, but to demonstrate that she takes her job seriously, and wants to make sure the management's own policies are enforced.

Even so, I'm probably not going to show my face in the store for a while, at least until everything is settled and has cooled a bit.

Quite a victory. One that had my mom practically dancing down the halls and probably fueled my father's hope that I go into law. With the extra leave, Jen can stay home well into my summer break, allowing me to be full-time parent when she finally goes back. When the fall semester rolls around, I'll hopefully be able to adjust my schedule to wrap around Jen's.

Katie will be seven months old -- crawling and almost walking -- by that time. Even if we have to turn to child care, I would be less nervous about it with Katie that much stronger.


© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 12 March 1998 · Last Modified: 15 March 1998