Story of father fired for attending birth of son catches eye of N.H. lawmakers

  • Lindsay Austin, 26, and her husband, Lamar Austin, 30, sit with their newborn son, Cainan Austin, at Concord Hospital on Jan. 1. Lindsay Austin said she’s thankful for the support her family has received since her story went public. LEAH WILLINGHAM / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 1/6/2017 12:16:47 AM

Lindsay Austin is grateful for all the support her family has received after her husband was fired early New Year’s Day for missing work to attend the birth of their son.

“I was a little bit upset, because my husband is trying to provide for us and it was hard to swallow when he got fired, but I’m thankful and I feel like we’re blessed,” Austin said Thursday. “It definitely happened for a reason.”

Austin said she hopes other workers won’t have to make the same choice her husband, Lamar, had to make – go to work or lose his job.

“Hopefully, we can be part of the movement,” she said, as new baby Cainan, slept nearby. “Hopefully things can change and a law can be passed so this doesn’t affect other people again in the same way.”

The family’s story – they were featured in Monday’s Monitor after having the first baby of the new year in Concord – caught the public’s eye and struck a chord with many of the state’s legislators and labor leaders.

State Sen. Dan Feltes of Concord said he tried to create protections for employees like Lamar Austin during the last legislative session with Senate Bill 416, which offers workers “flexible working arrangements,” for reasons including the hospitalization of a family member, or the birth of a child.

But it’s not the employer’s job to offer flexible arrangements. It’s up to the employee to ask for flexibility, which isn’t possible in all circumstances.

“Hard-working Granite Staters shouldn’t have to choose between work and family,” Feltes said.

It’s hard to know if SB416 would have worked out for Austin and his former employer Salerno Protective Services. So far, company president Anthony Salerno has declined to say much about Austin or why he was dismissed.

Currently, neither the federal nor state government have a family and medical leave law or program. The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act allows certain workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid – but job-protected – leave to tend to a serious health condition or to care for a new child or an ill relative.

However, there are a few catches in the FMLA: including the size of the employer and how many hours an employee had worked over the course of a year. Austin was hired to work as a part-time security guard for Salerno in December and isn’t covered.

Nationally, about 41 percent of employees are not covered by FMLA, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

About half of Granite Staters lack access to parental leave, and less than a third of workers have access to all three types of extended leave: for their own illness, for parental leave and for care of a family member, according to a study done by Kristen Smith, a family demographer at the Carsey School of Public Policy.

Family time

If New Hampshire wants to attract and retain young workers – Austin is a 30-year-old Army veteran – it needs to offer maternity and paternity leave, but also types of medical leave including those who may need to miss work to care for an ailing partner, child or parent, said Chris D’Allesandro, New Hampshire Mom Force Director of MomsRising, an advocacy group for mothers and families.

“Key things that millennial workforces are looking for are these kinds of jobs that allow them to divide their time between caring for their families and their professions,” D’Allesandro said.

Glenn Brackett, president of the NH AFL-CIO union, agreed that New Hampshire needs some kind of legal mechanism for citizens to get time off to care for their families. He said that’s especially true of part-time employees like Lamar Austin.

“In New Hampshire, we have a lot of temporary employees and part-time employees that aren’t covered under any federal laws, and these people are being basically taken advantage of,” Brackett said.

Brackett, whose union represents nearly 30,000 workers, challenged the new governor, Chris Sununu, to stand behind legislation change for working families. In his inaugural speech on Thursday, Sununu cited the need for the state to retain and grow a workforce of younger workers.

“If Gov. Sununu really feels that he has to do something to help working people, using this example of Mr. Austin as a stepping-off point, will he be supportive of legislation that would right this wrong?” Brackett queried.

Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, who was sworn into office Thursday, cited the plight of the Austin family and said fair labor practices will be at the forefront of his mind during the next two years.

“When companies come to the state seeking contracts, I want to know about their employment practices,” he said. “And if they’re similar to that security company, I can tell you they’re going to get a hard time from me because they’re not respectful to their employees.”

Job options

Lamar Austin is now eyeing a shot at a new career as an electrician – or one of the multiple job opportunities that poured in after people read his story.

Austin was offered the opportunity to apply for an electrician’s apprenticeship with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Concord, along with a host of other jobs.

“Anything that would be more stable, and allow me to spend time with my family is a blessing,” Lamar Austin said.

Of course, the job is no handout, said Denis Beaudoin, the IBEW business manager.

“We’re giving him the potential hand-up, if you will, by offering him a career in the electrical construction field as an apprentice,” Beaudoin said.

Beaudoin said a first-year apprentice can make around $28,000 a year, plus benefits. If Austin gets the electrician job, he said it will be the best-paid job he’s ever had.

As for all the support, it’s been overwhelming, the Austins said. A GoFundMe account created by Sara Persechino, a mother of two from Hopkinton, already exceeded the account’s goal of $1,000 in one day.

“I didn’t expect this at all,” Lamar Austin said. “I don’t really watch the news or TV, so when I started getting all these emails from people wanting to help, it was a lot to take in.”

Austin said he’s been in contact with Salerno Protective Services to pick up his last check, hand in his uniform and talk about what happened. He said that, in his mind, there’s no bad blood between them – he understands why Salerno did what he did.

“It wasn’t a clash of who’s the bigger man,” Austin said. “He had his company, which is like his baby, and I had my baby, which was just being born. Naturally, he’s going to pick his baby over my baby. I can’t blame him for that.”

(Leah Willingham can be reached at news@cmonitor.com.)




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