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In some ways, conditions couldn't be better for those seeking to make family leave and paid sick days available to more American workers. In some ways, conditions could scarcely be worse.

The work/family cause now has ardent champions in President-elect Barack Obama and self-described mom-in-chief Michelle Obama, who says it will be among her top priorities. The strengthened Democratic majority in Congress is certain to lend a hand.

Yet the ambitious agenda, featuring bills that would for the first time mandate paid sick days and paid family leave nationwide for many businesses, is colliding head-on with the worst economic crisis in decades, giving wary employers and their allies fresh ammunition for their fight against the mandates.

"A recession is not the time to raise the cost of work," said Douglas Besharov, a public policy expert with the American Enterprise Institute. "If Obama gives in to his constituent groups, he may well make it much more difficult to fix the economic crisis."

Liberal activists say the meltdown should send the opposite message.

"Bad economic times are the worst times to lose a job because your child is sick or your father has a stroke," insists Ellen Bravo, a Milwaukee author and teacher who advocates on behalf of working women.


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