The following are letters from all 21 states in the Family Values @ Work network to President Obama. They’re from those who’ve needed just a day or so to deal with a medical appointment or stomach bug. Some needed longer to bond with new babies or care for a seriously ill child or partner. They’re workers who’ve honored their own ailing parents, as well as business owners who see these policies as the smart thing to do and want to guarantee them for everyone. Most writers lack access to paid sick days or paid family leave; some share the significance of having just won such a policy. Here are some of their voices:
Dear President Obama:
I’m writing to you to ask you to please continue to call for the creation of a paid sick time law in the United States. Including it again in the State of the Union would be very powerful.
Several years ago, I was a single mom who worked as a registered nurse in Tucson—and often had no paid sick days at jobs I worked. I carefully arranged my schedule in order to work and also to take care of my kids. I traded shifts with coworkers, picked up night shifts, and got help from my mother just to make ends meet. If the kids were sick, my mother was usually there to help take care of them so that I could go to work. This all changed when I fell off a ladder and needed back surgery. For the first three weeks after the surgery, my mother helped pay the bills, take care of the kids, and do everything she could. But my mom also had to work and had limited paid sick days (after using all she had to care for my father when he was dying from cancer). Before I could fully recover, my family was in financial desperation, and I had to go back to work sooner than my doctor had recommended. I was easily exhausted and often found the pain nearly unbearable. Sometimes I had to go into work late, or even ask for the entire day off, without pay. We had to move to a less expensive side of town and into a very small mobile home because I could no longer afford the rent on the house where we were living. I was stressed by the fear of losing my job and the need to fully recover from the surgery. Not long after I called in sick to care for my daughter when she had a life-threatening illness, I was fired. I felt like a bad person, like it was my fault.
If I had had paid sick time, unexpected circumstances, like a sick child or an accidental fall, would not have led to such disastrous consequences for my family. That is why I’m working with the Healthy Families, Healthy Workplaces Coalition in Tucson, Arizona. We are calling on Tucson to join the other cities who have adopted paid sick time laws. We support this in Tucson, in Arizona, and in the United States. Please continue to tell our stories. Thank you.
Dear President Obama:
My name is Adam Rochon and I’m the owner of Sequoia Employee Benefits and Insurance Solutions in Exeter, California. We’re a five-person firm that offers benefits and insurance packages to small and large companies.
As a small business, we’re unable to offer all the benefits that large businesses provide. But because California offers a statewide paid family leave insurance program, our employees are able to take paid time off for the birth of a child or to care for a sick family member. This policy levels the playing field for small businesses like mine and helps keep our hiring competitive with big business. What’s more, I’ve found it boosts employee morale.
This year, one of my employees took advantage of California’s paid leave during our busiest season. We were happy she was able to use this program, and so was she – when she returned to work, she was motivated and ready to give 100 percent. Plus, we didn’t have to pay her salary while she was out because California’s program is employee-funded through small paycheck deductions.
Duplicating California’s program nationwide – or implementing a similar program – won’t hurt small businesses. In fact, it will help us by leveling the playing field on benefits and increasing employee morale. I believe our policymakers should work together to create a national paid leave policy so all small businesses can offer this benefit to their employees, and I hope you will highlight this important issue during your State of the Union address next week.
Owner of Sequoia Employee Benefits and Insurance Solutions
Dear President Obama,
I look forward to your State of the Union address and hope that you will lift up the issue of Paid Family Leave. This is an issue that is important to my family and many new parents and caregivers, including myself and my family, have benefited from the California law. It is time to pass a national law in the US.
I am a senior software developer who has lived in Los Angeles for over 30 years. In 2013, I had occasion to experience the blessings of Paid Family Leave, after my mother suffered a fall in India in 2013. She fractured vertebrae and had other health complications resulting from the fall. As an only child, I had to drop everything and rush to India to be by her side and care for her during her recovery. I would have been a psychological wreck if I had been unable to fulfill my obligations to my mother during this time due to financial concerns of going without an income. Paid Family Leave is a boon to family health and peace of mind.
I appreciate your highlighting this issue during your administration. I feel very lucky to live in California where we have this benefit. The time has come to make this a national law for all US workers and their families.
K.V. Bapa Rao
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Dear President Obama,
My name is Eva McHenry. I own and operate a state licensed daycare in Manteca, CA. I employ 4 assistants and have an enrollment of 14 daycare children daily.
I’m a strong supporter of paid sick days as I feel that, at some point, nearly everyone needs time to recover from an illness or care for a sick loved one. Yet so many working people in the United States cannot take the time they need without risking their jobs or economic security.
As a business owner, I see this dilemma played out almost daily. To give you an example: In my daycare, in order to safeguard all the children, we have a strict policy regarding illness. I don’t take ill children. If a child has been brought sick to daycare or becomes ill during the course of the day, I’ll contact the parent to pick up their child immediately. The parent is then forced to take that time off, and it’s difficult for many because, sometimes, at the end of the month, the parent doesn’t have enough to pay their rent – because they weren’t paid for the time off they took to care for their sick child.
I firmly believe that paid sick days will save many of my clients from having to make the heart-wrenching decisions on whether to go to work or stay home without pay in order to care for their child. Most of my clients work in retail, and have never had paid sick leave before.
You, yourself, noted that a new national mentality was in order when it comes to taking care of our American families: “Family leave, child care, workplace flexibility, a decent wage — these are not frills, they are basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses. They should be part of our bottom line as a society.”
For those business owners who are fearful of higher costs for their business, I share my philosophy: Always be prepared, get your house in order. If you are prepared, you need not fear. The paid sick days policy will enhance your business. Taking care of our employees results in significant benefits for their families, businesses and our economy. When we take care of our employees, they make for better employees and are more productive.
Dear President Obama,
I am a low-wage worker at Wal-Mart in Commerce City, Colorado. I am a leader with 9to5 Colorado and OUR Walmart, and actively work to improve working conditions and family medical leave policies with these organizations. I can honestly say that having policies like family medical leave insurance would relieve an incredible burden for workers like me who must take time off work to care for themselves or a sick relative. I believe that family comes first, and these kinds of policies would help all workers, especially women, have the ability to care or for themselves or their children like they should.
In 2014, I had an allergic reaction to the new shoes I had bought for work. As a result, I was not been able to work for three weeks while my skin was healing from a horrible rash that caused blisters and scabs. This created such a financial burden for me that I got shut off notices from the water and utility companies, had no money for groceries, and I wasn’t even sure whether or not I would be able to pay the rent in April. If I had access to any kind of paid family medical leave, I would not be faced with the possibility of being homeless because of an unforeseen illness.
Wage replacement provided by a family medical leave insurance law would have helped me cover enough expenses so that I could have eaten more than Mac-N-Cheese and fried egg sandwiches for an entire week. The thought has even occurred to me that maybe if I had money to eat, I would have healed faster because I would be eating more than one meal a day. A healthy body definitely helps faster healing.
Family medical leave insurance policies would also answer the prayers of many of my coworkers. This past Christmas, one of the cashiers I work with came to work for almost a week straight with walking pneumonia despite doctor’s orders to stay home. Being the sole provider for her child, she could not afford to stay home and not receive her desperately needed wages. There have been countless other times in my six years at Wal-Mart that I have seen single mothers sneaking a phone call to one of their children. Their children were sick and crying alone because they wanted mom to come home. My coworkers would be scrunched down behind a clothing rack trying to comfort their child over the phone quickly before management walked by.
It is no secret that finding a business that offers family friendly benefits is a rare thing. Modest paid family medical leave laws would give mothers and fathers the ability to take care of their children and not have to abandon them when they’re sick. It would give low wage workers like myself the ability to heal without facing eviction or going hungry.
Many people have said that raising the minimum wage is a great first step to helping our economy and helping people to pull themselves out of poverty. If this is true, then I would have to say that passing paid family medical leave policies would be the imperative second step. I am asking you to please speak in support the federal Family Act and push Governor Hickenlooper to support the Colorado Family And Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) Act. It would keep people who are living in poverty from having to choose between having money to pay rent and taking care of themselves or a sick family member.
On top of the benefits to workers the employer also benefits because the proposed program in Colorado is funded by worker contributions. This makes it beneficial for everyone, which translates to being better for our economy. Thank you for your time and considerations.
Commerce City, CO
Dear President Obama,
My name is Carolynn Mascareñas. I am a member of 9to5 Colorado and I am a cancer survivor. I am writing to ask you to support the federal Family Act and to urge Governor Hickenlooper to support the proposed Colorado Family And Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) Act.
I have always worked hard for an equal chance to advance and have a fair shot with safe and decent working conditions. In October, 2009 I had a left breast mastectomy with reconstruction and had little chance to fight cancer because I was too busy fighting to keep my job. When you are at your most vulnerable state, documented workplace intimidation and retaliation are another aspect of surviving cancer.
Cancer is expensive! Not just from a financial point of view, but also from the emotional and physical toll that results. I took 9 ½ weeks of FMLA during which I also used all of my accrued paid time off, which was only three weeks. There was not short term or long term disability available for me, and I could not afford to take any more unpaid time off. Because I did all the right things, always paid my bills on time, built up an emergency savings fund, and maintained an excellent credit rating, I did not qualify for any assistance.
My work position is a relatively low paying one, with a substantial part of my income coming from tips. During an eight hour shift, my employer does not provide any breaks or meal period.
I am a sole provider with a home mortgage and all the normal household and personal expenses. I have worked multiple jobs for five years in order to build my savings. All of my savings were used to pay for out of pocket co-pays covering all of my medical, hospital, chemo and radiation bills. As a result, I am unable to have some badly needed major repairs completed on my 32 year old house.
The Colorado FAMLI Act will go a long way in providing individuals such as me with a “safety blanket’ of financial assistance while undergoing treatment for a debilitating medical condition such as cancer. Mr. President, please continue to support state and federal family leave insurance, so other families like mine don’t face financial disasters.
Dear President Obama,
My name is Linda Nestler, and I am a member of 9to5 Colorado. I am hoping you will use your State of the Union address to urge support for state and federal family leave insurance laws.
Early in 2012 my family and I were happy and excited to welcome a new grandbaby, but three weeks after delivery, my daughter was back in the hospital with MRSA. She proudly serves in the US Air Force and with a school age son for her husband to take care of, there was no one to help her with the baby in the hospital. I qualified for the Family Medical Leave Act or FMLA. I was so happy to help care for my daughter and granddaughter without worrying about losing my job, and though missing a couple of weeks of work would hurt me financially, I thought it wouldn’t kill me because I had credit cards and savings.
Unfortunately, two months later, I was knocked over by a horse and stepped on. While I avoided internal injuries, my hand was severely damaged and my specialist advised that now was the time for surgery. Another two months off work, still protected by FMLA and on short term disability, I was able to get 66% of my average income. So although I was starting to feel the strain, I still knew I was one of the lucky ones.
One month after I returned to work, my father took a turn for the worst, and his condition required heart surgery. The surgery was deemed a success, but it quickly became obvious that he had suffered catastrophic brain damage. Knowing his wishes in these circumstances, I arranged for him to be discharged under hospice care at home, with myself as his primary caregiver. Thus began our final journey together.
During this time, I had no income, as FMLA only protected my job. I cashed out my 401K in order to buy groceries and gas. I had to pay bills with my credit cards, and even sold all my jewelry and other valuables to try and make it through, but this was nothing compared to the pain of watching my dad fade away. This is what families do. They care for each other and support each other by any means necessary. Just as he held my hand as I took my first steps in this world, it was time for me to hold his hand as he took his first steps into the next.
My father lived just long enough for me to lose my job. My family now lives in an RV because we could not and still cannot afford at the cost of rent/utilities and deposits. My daughter was forced to move in with friends so that she could continue to go to her local school, but has since had to move down to Texas to live with her sister. It took me another five months to get a job and get back to work.
In this economy, I still consider myself one of the lucky ones, but I went 8 months without a single paycheck, and my bills are no longer manageable even now that I have an income.
During those 5 months I couldn’t get unemployment because my termination was “voluntary”. I didn’t qualify for food stamps because of the income from the sale of the house, and because I didn’t have adequate food preparation facilities. Three months of paid leave would have made a huge difference with a paid family medical leave insurance program, but now bankruptcy looms.
For the price of two meals at McDonald’s a month, a fund can be set up and administered to assist people like me – people who are caring for a dying loved one, an ill child, a returning veteran, so that they can pay their rent and buy food. Mr. President, thank you for anything you can do to lift up this important issue.
Dear President Obama,
My Name is Dina Lara, and until recently, I worked for a New Haven-based home health care agency as a CAN/LPN. I have worked in the healthcare field now for 28 years but I still made just ten dollars an hour.
Last February, I underwent gallbladder surgery. I took a few days off to recuperate, unpaid. My doctor told me that I should rest for a few weeks, but I got right back to work because I live paycheck to paycheck and missing one paycheck means I cannot pay my bills. When I returned to work, my weekly hours were slashed from 54 per week to 14. I complained about this. It wasn’t my choice to need surgery – why should I be punished for it? They raised my hours to about 30 per week.
Approximately one month after I went back to work, I was feeling so lightheaded that I needed to sit down. The next thing I knew, I was being rushed to the hospital for complications from my surgery. I was in the hospital – and missed work – for three more days.
The surgeon told me: “Dina, you need to rest!” So I asked him: “Are you going to pay my bills?”
When I returned to work, I was given a disciplinary warning – with “friendly reminder” written at the top – that I had missed eight days of work in 2015 for my surgery and the return to the hospital. I received no pay for any of the days I missed and now I am still in danger of losing my job. All because I had necessary surgery.
Because of this horrible experience, I decided to speak out for paid family and medical leave. I wrote to my legislators. I testified in front of legislative committees. I spoke with Labor Secretary Perez and Representative DeLauro about the importance of this policy on the lives of hard-working families like mine. When the company I work for heard that I was speaking out in public for workplace protections, they fired me.
If I had been able to take paid time off when I had my surgery, enough time to heal properly, I would not be in this situation because I probably would not have needed to go to the hospital again. Not having paid family and medical leave actually ended up making me even sicker, and eventually getting me fired. I urge you to keep attention on Paid Family and Medical Leave policies so hard workers like me don’t lose our income, or get fired, just because we are human and get sick!
West Haven, CT
Dear President Obama:
I’m writing to you to tell you about why paid family leave is so important to me.
From my earliest memories, my grandma (“Grammie”) and great aunt (“Eheh”) were constant sources of love and support. My Eheh would pick me up after school and walk me home to her apartment where treats like sundaes and handmade dolls always awaited me. My Grammie would hold my hand in hers and kiss it over and over again, showering me with affection, every day.
As my Grammie and Eheh got older, their love remained strong as ever. But as they neared their late nineties, their bodies began to grow weaker. My Grammie developed Alzheimer’s disease and my Eheh suffered a hip injury. It became evident that they needed 24-7 care. And so, along with my other family members, I began dedicating a couple days a week to their care.
Because I was still in high school, and not yet in the workforce when my Grammie and Eheh needed care, I was able to be there for them. And thank goodness for that, because that last bit of time with them was so important to me. I remember sitting at my Grammie’s feet, my head on her lap as she stroked my hair. I remember my Eheh’s bright blue eyes shining into mine as I told her about my favorite classes. That was time that I needed, just as much as they did.
I hate the fact that so many people are forced to go into work even though their hearts are grieving for their sick family members, alone at home without care. It’s not fair and it’s not right. Who can focus on work when their loved ones are sick and in need of care?
I want to thank you for your efforts thus far to promote the need for paid family leave. Your call
to Congress, mayors, and governors to act has made a difference. I ask you to continue your advocacy for paid family leave. Our families need it, and we do too.
West Hartford, CT
Dear Mr. President,
My name is Rebecca Chickadel, and I live in Newark, Delaware. I’d like to thank you for your service and for the accomplishments you have achieved during your presidency thus far.
This past year, I have become aware that the United States is the only developed nation without paid family leave and that paid sick days are only mandated in three states. This past year, I was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. Thankfully, I do receive paid sick time, and I was able to take time off to focus on my recovery. It was a relief to be able to take care of myself as my doctors directed, without the worry of how to make ends meet. During this time, I often wondered how I would have managed without this important benefit. I firmly believe that my recovery was aided because I was able to rest, go to appointments and treatments, and take care of myself without any added stress.
I am asking you to please consider the important issues of paid sick days and paid family leave this year.
Rebecca B. Chickadel
Dear President Obama
My name is Ben Shallenberger. I’m a 29 year old DC Resident, a gay man, a musician, and so many other things. But one of my favorite labels and part of my identities is that I’m a two-time Cancer Survivor.
I was diagnosed with ALL (a type of Leukemia) in early 2011. As someone in an age-range who doesn’t usually deal with this type of cancer, I was advised by my doctor to start treatment pretty much immediately. This left me with a weird situation at work. I had to tell my supervisor that I needed to take off time for treatment, but I didn’t know how much time I would need. I blew through all of my earned time off very quickly. My office provided a very generous benefits package that included vacation time, sick leave, personal days, etc. But that was only enough to cover about a month or 2.
My first time with the disease, my treatment lasted about 6 months. This wasn’t the kind of chemo I could take in the morning and show up to work in the afternoon or the following week. This was 28 days-at-a-time hospital stays, various infections and complications, constant monitoring, etc.
After I went through all of my personal time, I had to sign up for FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act). This allows up to 12 weeks of time off at reduced pay every 2 years. Even taking this, it was not enough time to complete treatment and enter remission.
I was re-diagnosed in 2013, making it harder to tell work I would need another few months off. I applied for FMLA again, but this time I had to travel to Baltimore for a Bone Marrow Transplant, the best shot at long-term remission. Luckily, my aunts live in Baltimore and could offer me a place to stay while I underwent my transplant. However, “aunt” is not a close enough relationship to claim FMLA to take care of a family member. It only covers children or parents. My aunt blew through most of her vacation time she had earned to take me to and from the hospital every day. My other aunt took time off, and took me on days she didn’t have to work. My father came up from Houston to help out, as I didn’t have my own way to get to and from the hospital for daily appointments.
Paid Family Leave is critical for taking care of yourself or loved ones. I was lucky that my job offered me enough time off with supplemental pay to help me through both of my treatments. But many families aren’t so lucky. Not everyone works for a non-profit with excellent benefits. I recently took issue with an article in the Washington Post that said that the proposed bill to allow 16 weeks of paid leave was too much. In reality, it’s not enough. We’re not just talking about moms that want to stay home with their newborns (although I completely support them having as much time as they need to take care of their children). It’s also about those with loved ones who are going through enormous struggles most readers can’t even begin to imagine.
There’s no way I could have made it through either of my bouts with cancer without the amazing family and friends who took time off to help care for me. People who drove me back and forth to the doctors and hospitals. People who came to watch me at home to make sure I was safe when I was too weak for normal, daily tasks.
I’m a resident of DC. I work here. I live here. I pay taxes here. And I support the Paid Family Leave campaign in helping DC residents help themselves and their families. Don’t you agree that it’s time to stop asking how much it would cost, and start asking how much will it help?
You’ve been an incredible ally to all of the communities I associate with myself. I’m asking you to also join the community that needs paid time off for all employees that work in this great nation.
Thank you for all you’ve done to ensure that I live in the greatest country in the world.
District of Columbia
Dear President Obama,
In 2007, I gave birth to my son, with 7 weeks to bond, breastfeed and organize child care before I went back to work full time as a then-sales assistant at a radio station in NW DC with a very modest wage.
What seemed like a potentially decent stretch of time from a delivery date of Valentine’s Day up until the time I went back to work (I had no idea) turned into a TOTAL blur and before I knew it, I was back at work, pumping (in my car, btw) a depleting supply of breast milk as my 2 month old was cared for by a little old lady that provided daycare in her home. This was my introduction to motherhood/child care and that was what I thought–at that time–how that was supposed to work.
I was hor-ri-fied at some of the child care organizations I’d visited while on maternity leave. I remember leaving one place in TEARS, upset that I had to make a decision so soon. I was wait-listed at every place I liked. Eventually all worked out; but here we are again, 8 years later…my partner and I just had #2 and I’m feeling slighted that the only paid maternity leave option I have is being managed through my short term disability policy.
If all goes as planned, I will only be paid for six weeks should I want to get to know my newborn or – gasp – feed her. I’ve been briefed on my right to exercise my 16-week unpaid option under FMLA. I guess in theory, job security is nice but I am really worried off that my ability to spend time with my family is directly linked to my salary.
The DC City Council is considering a paid leave bill which would be a big help to me. I hope you will use your State of the Union speech once again to call on elected officials to act.
District of Columbia
Dear President Obama,
My name is Kim Schofield. I am a resident of Atlanta, Georgia. There are many things I enjoy about living in Georgia, the warm weather, the expanding presence of the entertainment industry in Atlanta and the community of committed activist I have connected with since moving here. One thing I have found challenging about living in Georgia, is the state’s lack of protections for workers. In Georgia many workers do not have access to earned sick days. I first heard of earned sick days/FMLI in Atlanta, GA from my state senator, Nan Orrock. I was concerned about an issue of violation of my rights in the workplace and she suggested that I reach out to 9to5 Working Women an organization committed to winning justice in the workplace. I met with the Stater Director of the Georgia chapter of 9to5 and learned of their mission, I was compelled to become connected and engaged as an activist.
For over 15 years, I have been living with a lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that ranges from mild to life threatening. The instability of the disease has sometimes put me in a challenging position to maintain sustainable employment. As a single mom, I must work but I need flexibility with my sick time. Many times, I had to go to work sick for fear of losing my pay.
Oftentimes, I used my vacation days to attend doctor’s appointments because paid sick days were not an option. I have also worked for organizations that did not provide sick days. For me, lupus flares can last a matter of hours or days. Most of the time, the flares do not require medical attention. In the workplace, it was sometimes required if I was using a sick day, that I provide a medical documentation, which I could not due if the flare didn’t require me to go to the doctor. I’ve always felt pressured to compromise my health in order to maintain health benefits and work.
As an advocate for other people who live with lupus, I have heard many stories of people who live in fear about not having access to paid sick leave and forced to work while sick or needing assistance from caregivers to go to doctor’s appointments or require assistance with their quality of care issues. No one should have to choose between the job they need and people they love. Access to FMLI is not just an issue for people with lupus but it is a major issue for people living and working with health challenges. My role as an advocate includes raising awareness, educating the working community, meeting with legislatures and talking to the media about the impact that earned sick days/FMLI could have in our state. I volunteer at workplace justice initiatives and strive to build collaborative community partnerships. It is important for me to become a change agent and solution strategist so that we promote the value of investing in a work culture that supports the relevant needs of its employees.
As my daughter enters the workforce, she is intentional about working with companies that promote family values, earned sick time and FMLI. She is fully aware that she may have to have the flexibility to assist me, in case the need arises.
Passing federal Paid Sick Day and Family Medical Leave Insurance Bills will be a victory for all. It sends a message that corporate America has moved from profits and ROI to valuing and supporting the needs of its employees. It is an awakening!
Dear President Obama,
My name is Judith. I live in Columbus, Georgia. Just over a year ago I had to relocate my elderly parents from Orlando, Florida to Columbus, Georgia to live with me. My mother had cancer that was in remission at the time and my father has stage for Alzheimer’s. It became apparent to me that my mother would no longer be able to care for my father by herself so I needed to move them closer to me. Given all of the issues both of them were suffering with their health, I knew it would take me at least two weeks to drive to Orlando, pack them up, drive them back to Columbus, Georgia, transfer their medical records and get them set up with new doctors. When I asked my employer for the time off they argued that I could not use FMLA to relocate my parents even though the relocation was necessary for their health. Sadly even if I had been able to use FMLA, I could not afford to take over 2 weeks of unpaid leave.
President Obama, this is why I am writing you to urge you to address the importance of Family Medical Leave Insurance in your State of the Union address. I needed FMLI when I relocated my parents from Orlando to Columbus, Georgia. As a result of me not having access to FMLI, I was fired from my job, I have lost my home and now my parents and I are all living with my daughter. This type of tragedy should not happen to anyone simply because they need to care for their parents. My father is a veteran; he believed in the American dream. We should not let the American dream die for people like me because they need to care for loved ones.
Passing federal Paid Sick Day and Family Medical Leave Insurance Bills will restore the belief in the American dream for people like me and my family!
Judith Vazquez Lopez
Dear President Obama,
My name is Kayla Reid. I live in Griffin, Georgia. The year of 2008 was bittersweet for me. Not only was it a national moment in history with your election as our first African-American president, it was also the year I became a mother. The emotional and physical transition from “me” to “we” coupled with the excitement of finally having an “us” is a good reason a mother should be granted more time to adjust to such a life changing event. Unfortunately, laws and regulations lag behind. Because I had a natural, vaginal birth, I was granted a maximum of six weeks maternity leave with pay. While I understand cesareans take a longer time to heal, I think the transition from single living to parenthood takes longer than six weeks to adjust. Therefore, I took two more weeks from work. This was not ordered by my OBGYN doctor. However, the emotional and mental challenges I face with the birth of my daughter forced me to go beyond the standard six weeks. That was the problem with my employer. I did not plan on facing the horrible unbalanced emotions of postpartum depression. At the time, I had too much on my plate to fully function at work. The two extra weeks taken with no pay almost caused me to lose my job.
The Human Resource Manager scolded me for not returning to work after six weeks. Luckily, after explaining this to my OBGYN doctor, he wrote a new note for an additional two weeks off, but I was not paid for those two weeks because the HR Manager said I was not physically unable to return to work. Therefore my two weeks off would not fall under the FMLA act.
I am grateful for the FMLA but those two weeks off with no pay put me in a financial bind that forced me to work overtime, inevitably losing bonding time with my newborn. Being covered for 12 weeks is good, but when you are the one having the child and bringing home the bacon, no pay can lead you to the poor house.
I feel no woman should have to choose between their job and their family. Although I had help from family with my newborn, the financial burden was on me. I challenge Congress to scrutinize the FMLA act and fit the policy to the need of the person in need, not the employer. President Obama, please lift up this issue during your State of the Union Address by urging congress to pass a Federal Paid Sick Days bill and also Family Medical Leave insurance.
Dear President Obama,
I am writing to tell you about the important role paid sick leave has played in my life. Paid sick leave is a benefit that allows working people to continue to support themselves and their families in the event that they become too ill to work. Misfortune can befall any of us – even with the best planning and preparation. Even those of us who think we’re prepared for catastrophe can find themselves sick and without a safety net to support them.
I am young and healthy – recently turned 39, without any history of major illness or health complications. Since the age of 17, I have always been employed – part-time while in college and in graduate school; full-time while not in school. I have been fortunate enough to hold jobs with benefits when I worked full-time.
In early June 2015, I visited the doctor hoping to find the cause for some stomach discomfort I’d been experiencing the previous two months. A CT scan found masses in my abdominal cavity and my pelvis. A biopsy showed that the masses were cancerous. By late July, I was diagnosed with a rare sarcoma – DSRCT (Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor). Within a couple of weeks from the diagnosis (August 2015), I was undergoing chemotherapy treatment. The intense chemotherapy I was experiencing came with a litany of side effects, week-long hospital stays, and lists of precautionary measures that I needed to take. The chemotherapy, the side effects, and the frequent doctor’s appointments made it impossible for me to work consistently. I had no choice but to take time off of work. Fortunately, sick leave is included in the benefits that my employer provides its employees. I took advantage of this benefit in more than one way. After my diagnosis, my employer set up a “sick leave bank” for our office, giving my co-workers the opportunity to donate their unused sick leave hours to me. After I went through my sick leave hours (which happened fairly quickly), I was able to use sick leave hours my co-workers had deposited in the sick leave bank.
I am very thankful for that time. Without the leave, I would not have been able to pay my bills, pay for rent, and buy groceries. I am a single person – my income is the only means I have to take care of my financial responsibilities. Because of this benefit, I could focus on my cancer treatment without having to deal with the added stress of missed paychecks.
I know that I am fortunate. I know that most employers in most states aren’t legally obligated to provide paid sick leave for their workers. This injustice breaks my heart. Illness doesn’t discriminate – I’m proof of that. Perfectly healthy people can, without warning, become afflicted with diseases and illnesses that keep them away from their jobs. Without paid sick leave to get them through these unfortunate times, workers have to watch their bills pile up and watch themselves go into debt as they’re trying to get well.
Financial stress and strain can compromise a person’s path to wellness. I don’t believe that any worker should have to endure financial struggles while they’re suffering from an illness. Workers should not be “lucky” or “fortunate enough” to receive paid sick leave…paid sick leave is a benefit that should be extended to all workers.
Samaa R. Abdurraqib, PhD
South Portland, ME
Dear Mr. President,
Last night I slept for a combined total of five hours: it was a good night. I write you this letter with my five-week-two-day-old daughter cradled in one arm, while I type with the other hand. At this moment, my laptop rests on a Boppy. If you don’t know what a Boppy is, you should definitely keep reading this letter.
Recently, there has been much media attention about paid maternity leave in the United States. You know the facts. We are the only industrialized nation without paid maternity leave and that our country’s position on this issue is best compared to Papua New Guinea.
I have a toddler and I, too, forgot what it was like to have a newborn. Last night, I woke up four times to nurse my daughter and two times just to make sure she was breathing. At one point, her sleep swaddle covered her lower chin and I had to choose if I should risk waking her up to reposition it. I knew I wouldn’t sleep for fear of it moving up and covering her face, so I re-swaddled her. She woke up screaming her high-pitched-newborn-scream and I nursed her back to sleep.
After weeks of struggle, my daughter and I have finally gotten breastfeeding down. She now has a proper latch and I am no longer feeling discomfort or bleeding. My daughter has gained two and a half pounds from the food my body has given her. You may have forgotten how big of a deal that is. My daughter had a minor case of jaundice, so the day she surpassed her birth weight was a celebration. We cheered when we saw her weight on the scale and she instinctively started to cry from the loud noise.
I forgot how little a newborn is. The diapers are so small and her body is so floppy. She lacks neck control and shows her startle reflex from the smallest sound. She is still unsure of the world around her, but she gets comfort from me. She coos and smiles in her sleep. She is sweet. She is exhausting. She is endearing. She is vulnerable.
I am vulnerable too. I have so many hormones flowing through me that I cry from happiness, sadness, and fear. I worry that I worry too much. I worry about something happening to me and my girls growing up without a mom. I worry that my husband and I are becoming co-parents and losing our spark. I worry about my two and a half year old daughter adjusting to our new life.
I also worry about what it will feel like in five days when my paid maternity leave ends. I was one of the lucky ones to have part of my leave paid, but at six weeks I am no longer in that category. My salary stops. My husband and I had to choose if our baby, who spends the majority of her day in my arms and at my breast, is ready to spend ten hours a day with someone she has never met. She will be one of four babies cared for by one person. She will cry for me and I will not be there. She will have my milk that I have been tirelessly pumping and freezing, but she will not have me. She will learn to find comfort in another woman’s arms.
What will it feel like to be back at work, at the career I have worked so hard for, when every part of me wants to be with my baby? What will it feel like to not fully be present for my job or my family? I will work with too little sleep and come home to two children who need me. Neither of them will get enough of me. My husband and I will both feel like we have no time for ourselves, or for each other. We will be stressed. We will fight. We will apologize. We will not sleep enough. We will start the day again.
This is why I have chosen to give my family six more weeks. Work can wait. Paychecks can wait. I have this option, but most American women don’t. They have to put food on the table and pay the bills. There is no choice.
But you do have a choice in changing our country’s view on paid maternity leave. You can help women balance the adjustment between family and work. You do have a choice. No matter what, please don’t forget that.
Dear President Obama,
2016 promises to be an exciting year. It will be the last full year of your presidency and your chance to shape the final policies of your administration. The past 8 years have been tumultuous and I admire your strength, patience and persistence to always do what’s best for America – despite how difficult it may be. Personally, 2016 marks the year my husband and I will be welcoming our first child. We are thrilled and excited and doing everything in our power to ensure the best start for our little one. And that’s why I’m taking the time to write this message. My family is fortunate enough that I am able to take three months of leave to spend time with our child and adjust to this new world. It is my hope that spending this time with my family will create an environment for my newborn that will have a life-long impact. My workplace, a small nonprofit, is flexible with my absence and supportive of my choice. They did not have to follow the Family Medical Leave Act because of our size and because I had been in my current position for just short of a year. Fortunately, they have encouraged me to take the time that I need to best transition to this new phase of my life. They value me as an employee and want me back happy, healthy and rested.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this important detail – my leave is unpaid. My husband and I have been able to save for the time when I won’t be earning a paycheck. I am well aware that most families do not have this luxury and three months without a paycheck is an insurmountable feat.
It is exactly those families who need and deserve a Paid Family Medical Leave and I strongly encourage you to mention this in your upcoming State of The Union. It is unconscionable to me that the United States of America is one of two countries the entire world that doesn’t offer any paid maternity leave. As I write this message and reflect on my own personal plans, it seems to be a pretty sad state of affairs when we have to be grateful that our workplace won’t replace us in three months. Or to say that we are “lucky” to have unpaid leave during what is already one of the most difficult and challenging times in our lives. I simply cannot imagine what it must be like for those mothers who have to go back to work immediately and I believe it is our shared responsibility as a nation to do more on their behalf.
I believe that your administration is well aware of the multitude of economic and social impacts that a Paid Family Medical Leave would have on our country and that you have been working with the Department of Labor to spur state level solutions. This issue deserves a national platform and I truly hope that your State of the Union Address on January 12 again elevates this issue. Families across the country are suffering every day as result of our non-existent policies. We must and we can do better.
As I think about my resolutions, I know that I must keep advocating on behalf of families on this critical issue. My life and my family is about to change in a way that I can never fully prepare for, but this issue is too important for our country for me to simply be grateful for my own circumstances. In one year, when we both reflect on what we did accomplish in 2016, I truly hope that helping to expand access to paid family leave is on both our lists.
Thank you for your consideration of this message and Happy New Year!
Mary Erin Casale
Dear President Obama,
As you have noted on many occasions, the United States is the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave to its workers. I am one of more than 700,000 workers just in the state of Maryland who currently lack access to paid sick days.
As a single mother of three daughters, ages 13 to 21, this means I regularly face impossible choices between my job, my health, and the health of my family. I try to make sure we all stay healthy, because if I do not work, I do not get paid. I rarely take time off if I am sick, because I just can’t afford it. I try and reserve time for when my daughters are ill.
After separating from my husband of 15 years two years ago, I soon began working three part-time jobs. Since I had been a stay-at-home mom for 10 years, it was difficult to find a full-time job in my former profession (writing for media). To support my family, I worked at a restaurant part-time, a local gym as a fitness instructor, and a marketing company as a part-time content writer. This allowed me the flexibility to pick up and drop off my daughters from school and activities, but made for long and hectic days. None of those jobs provided paid sick days.
During the summer/fall of 2014 my schedule became particularly hectic. I repeatedly ignored pain and signs that I was getting sick, because I knew that I could not afford to miss work. An untreated urinary tract infection rapidly turned into a kidney infection, sending me to the emergency room. When the ER doctor recommended I remain in the hospital, I refused. There was no one to care for my children. He recommended 10 days of complete rest. My heart sunk. How could I possibly afford 10 days with no income? I told him I could maybe afford a week. He said I was extremely ill, and that I could really damage my kidneys if I did not rest completely.
So I informed my employers that I was required to take a full week of work to recover. They agreed to the time (unpaid). After I recovered, it was extremely difficult to catch up financially. With paid sick days, my time off to recover would not have been so financially damaging.
I now have just one job – full-time with a marketing company. I still have no paid sick days. If I had paid sick time, I’d be inclined to take time off to rest when I started feeling sick, and avoid worsening an illness, like happened with my kidney infection. I would also feel more confident allowing my daughters to stay home from school so that I can care for them. It is not right for a parent to have to labor over a decision to send a sick child to school for financial reasons.
I work hard in my job, and in taking care of my family. Yet I am still just one illness away from financial disaster. This is my story. But it’s also the story of thousands of families here in Maryland, and millions of families across the United States.
When you address the nation during your State of the Union address later this month, will you please remember me and my daughters, and again call on this country to do better by working families when it comes to paid sick leave?
Dear President Obama,
As a licensed internal medicine attending physician, I regularly see patients who lack access to any paid sick days. I see first-hand how the issue of paid sick days is more than a labor issue; it is also a public health issue. When people who are sick and infectious show up for work, they pass their illness on to their co-workers and customers. When they stay home from work, less disease is spread.
For example, influenza affects millions of people in the United States a year, resulting in billions of dollars in direct medical costs. “Presenteeism,” or showing up to work while your sick, causes high rates of transmission of the flu in the workplace.
Recent studies show that having one or two days off work can reduce the rate of flu transmission from between 25 and 40 percent. Not having access to paid time for medical attention has also been shown to be a barrier to influenza vaccination, which is a key source of prevention for the flu.
The main advice of the all public health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is that if you are sick with influenza – stay at home. Don’t get others sick. This advice is more likely to be followed with paid sick days.
In hospitals and long-term care facilities, we do not want employees to come to work with whooping cough, influenza, or other infectious conditions. We know this can cause significant harm to the patients.
Many people in Maryland suffer from chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes, and mental illness. The key to effective care for chronic disease is to intervene early when symptoms appear, rather than wait until it is too late. Paid sick time allows people to get care when it is not too late. This can reduce illness, improve productivity, and reduce costs from serious complications.
Ensuring that employees can earn sick leave also helps family members care for those who depend upon them. We know that children from low-income families have poorer health and twice the rate of days missed from school because of illness compared to children from higher income families. Their parents are the least likely to have access to paid sick days and therefore have less ability to care for their children. Paying for sick days helps these children recover quickly and get back to school.
During your State of the Union address later this month, can you please remind your audience that forcing people to go to work when they are sick is pennywise and pound foolish? It can lead to the spread of infectious disease, complications from chronic disease, and greater risk for vulnerable populations.
Paid sick days, on the other hand, are smart public health policy and very cost-effective preventive medicine.
Xaviour Walker, MD, MPH, DTMH
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Internal Medicine Attending Physician, Howard County General Hospital
(The opinions expressed herein are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health or Howard County General Hospital)
Dear President Obama,
My name is Elizabeth Fredette. In May of 2013, I was blessed with the gift of motherhood. Throughout my pregnancy I was faced with serious health concerns. I was being monitored by my physician as well as an oncologist. Being a first-time mother and never having any serious health problems before, the pregnancy was very scary for me. I was seeing both physicians on a weekly basis. A couple months later, my once-a-week appointments turned into twice-a-week appointments. I found myself using a lot of my earned sick time just to keep my pay checks at a livable wage.
It was time to start planning my maternity leave. Being a first-time mom, I wasn’t aware that maternity leave was unpaid. I was offered 8-12 weeks unpaid leave by the shelter where I work and was given the option to use my earned sick time and vacation time. I would have had a total of 3 weeks paid – that was all the time I had. However, while I was pregnant I used two weeks of that time for all the doctor appointments. My physician and oncologist were concerned that I had a serious illness. My white blood cell levels were as elevated as someone diagnosed with cancer. After all the testing, some things were ruled out but my diagnoses were always the same: Unknown. Not only was I concerned and worried about my health and my baby, but I was faced with the uncertainty that I might not be able to financially support my child.
So I did what any parent would do in that situation: I worked as many hours as I was allowed. How was I going to cover 12 weeks of maternity leave when I could barely cover one? It ws suggested that I remain on bed rest for the last month of my pregnancy but I refused the suggestion and continued to work. I put in as many hours as I could, including holidays and 12-hour days to save money.
I started my maternity leave on January 6, 2014 and had my beautiful son on January 9 – only 3 short days to relax before my child was born. I quickly realized how expensive a newborn was, between diapers, wipes, formula and doctor appointments, my savings was quickly depleted and my earned sick and other time exhausted. I had no choice but to seek state assistance. I was turned away by the local office, told I was ineligible. Because I was employed, I couldn’t seek unemployment. I had to make one of the most heartbreaking decisions of my life – to leave my child and return to work when he was only 4 weeks old.
I missed a lot of critical bonding time and first moments with my son. I missed his first smile, his first laugh, the first time he rolled over, his first tummy time, the first time he discovered his hands and feet and how amazed he was. All these priceless memories I will never get back.
Once I returned to work, due to unpaid leave I was behind on bills and had no savings to fall back on as I usually do. So I found myself once again working longer days and holidays, spending more time at work than I did at home. The sad truth is, instead of being on maternity leave enjoying my bonding time and first moments, I was working 12-hour days, barely getting any sleep, just to catch up on lost wages.
Some time had passed and during one of the house meetings at work, we had a speaker from the Coalition for Social Justice speak for our residents at the shelter. That’s when I first heard about the MA Paid Family and Medical Leave Act. I just kept thinking how amazing these options would have been for me and my family, and how hurt I was that I had to sacrifice so much because I had no other options. That’s when I decided to get involved. I had to tell my story so others would not have to make the same heartbreaking sacrifices that I had to make.
Not only do I support this bill because of my own experience, but because of how much it could help other families. One would be able to care for a sick loved one and create memories they might never have another chance to create. To care for those who cared for us. To spend time with a newborn child and cherish the first moments and build the lifelong bond needed between a child and their parents. To care for a newly adopted child or foster a child who is unfamiliar with their surroundings being able to take the time to make them feel welcome, loved and safe. So many people would benefit from paid family and medical leave in such a positive way. It would not only give someone financial stability, but something else so priceless and that’s time to spend with a new child, a seriously ill loved one or care for their own illness.
New Bedford, MA
Dear President Obama,
My name is Staci J .Lowry. I am a single mother of three living in Detroit, MI. I am writing because I want to thank you for being a champion for paid leave and how important this is to people in Michigan and across America just like me.
In December of 2014, my 4 year old daughter Bailee, suffered a stroke. She was slumped over on one side, refused to walk and was not telling me what was hurting her. Of course I thought at the time that children don’t have strokes but to be on the safe side decided to take her to Detroit Medical Center Children’s Hospital. There is where it was confirmed that my daughter had suffered a left side hemiplegic stroke. She lost function on her right side. We lived at the hospital for over a month.
During this trying time, while, of course, my main concern was my baby’s health, I also was trying to save my job. I had followed all of the correct procedures regarding Family Medical Leave Act, and although granted some of time, unfortunately that was not enough. I was an employee for a major company that I had given 3 years of my hard work. During my time there I had advanced quickly in my position. I was asked to help train new hires, asked to participate in small focus groups, and received accolades from management and corporate. Here I stood at a crossroad.
I was overwhelmed to say the least. I kept in constant contact with my employer making sure the plethora of doctors were filling out the necessary paperwork to cover my leave. It never crossed my mind to ask what would happen once my FMLA was exhausted. On February 2, 2015 I ran out of leave, had absolutely no income coming in, was denied the bonus that I worked for in 2014 but is paid out in January of 2015, and was told by both Short Term disability and Long Term disability I was not eligible since the medical issue affected my daughter and not myself.
I was laid off and subsequently lost most of what I worked for because I chose to take care of my daughter. She needed me by her side more than anything, but I also needed my job. I felt betrayed. All the hard work I had vested in this company for them to turn their backs on me during the worse time of my life. No job meant no income, no income meant no home, no home meant starting over. And starting over meant for me meant lots of blood, sweat, and tears to keep us above float. To make matters worse, I was even denied unemployment benefits.
This is why I have become an advocate for Mothering Justice. No parent should have to go through the emotional turmoil of seeing their child seriously ill and on top of that have to make a choice about whether they will be by their child’s side or keep their job.
Having paid leave would help so many people provide care for a loved one without jeopardizing their job security. No worker should be left behind because of an unexpected problem at home. Whether it is to take care of himself or herself, a sick child, or an elderly parent, workers should be able to do these things without fear of being laid off or fired.
So I will leave you with this quote by Mark Caine, “The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself.” Let’s not be held captive anymore and hold the companies responsible for providing benefits we need for the improvement of our lives. This type of law can be life changing; it can make a world of difference for workers. I know it would have made a huge difference for my children and me.
Thank you Mr. President,
Staci J. Lowry
I write you as the owner of Bella Pizza, a pizzeria in Elizabeth, NJ. My city has just passed an ordinance guaranteeing workers here the right to earned sick leave. I am proud of my city for doing the right thing and passing this common sense law, and am thankful for your continued support for this issue.
Elizabeth, like the other ten cities in New Jersey which have passed similar paid sick day laws, is proof that allowing workers to earn time off to deal with illness and family emergency is not just good for workers. It is also good for businesses. At Bella Pizza I have three employees and they are all better off for having earned sick days. Time and again we have found that workers do better on the job when they know they do not have to put their health at risk, or put their customers at risk, to protect their paycheck. Happier and healthier employees lead to happier and healthier customers.
Of course, this is one of times when the moral thing to do and the business savvy thing to do overlap completely. I do not just support paid sick days for workers because it is a good policy for me as a small business owner. I support the policy because I care about the people who work at my restaurant. I care about the customers who eat there, and do not want them to contract a contagious disease from a sick worker. This past November, it was refreshing to see that the people of Elizabeth care for one another in this same way.
Mr. President, I thank you again for the leadership you have shown on this issue, and for the opportunity to express just how much this policy means to my business, to the city of Elizabeth, and to myself personally. I hope that 2016 sees a renewed urgency behind this issue on the national level.
I hope this writing finds you well.
I’m a proud LGBT woman-owned small business based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and I am grateful for your work to make paid leave available to all workers for times when they need it to care for a loved one or to bond with a new child, or for their own health needs.
As such, I’m proud to stand up and advocate for a policy that makes sense for businesses, worker safety and public health. No one should have to make the choice between going to work sick to earn a day’s pay, or stay home knowing that it means the rent will be paid late, if at all.
As CEO of Disaster And Risk Associates, LLC., (DARA) which I founded in order to engage, educate and empower individuals and businesses to create sustainable and resilient communities, I am very conscious of the adverse impacts of workers who do not have sick days, go to work sick, and create unsafe work environments. I applaud the action that my city — New Brunswick — took in December 2015 to require that all businesses in the city provide workers with earned sick days. Business owners have a responsibility to be conscientious community members and compassionate employers and as such should do more to protect the health and well-being of workers, their families, and the communities in which they live and work.
Mr. President, your leadership, dedication and commitment on this issue has been an inspiration to many and has made local, state, and national policymakers stand up and take notice! I hope we will soon see the day when paid leave for workers becomes the norm in the U.S., not the exception.
Wishing you and your loved ones a safe, healthy and Happy Holiday Season!
Joyce S. Sagi
Founder and CEO
Disaster and Risk Associates, LLC
New Brunswick, NJ
I am writing to thank you for your continued leadership on the issue of paid sick day access for workers. Often this issue is presented as one that only matters to so-called low-wage workers, and I want to share my story because I am an example of why that is not the case.
Shortly after graduating college, I began work at a New Jersey-based marketing agency with many high-profile clients. The work was non-stop, and sick time was non-existent. If an employee of the agency did get sick, she was expected to work from home, or to come to work and spread her illness to her coworkers. Working from home in this field is quite difficult because important tools and files are only available from an in-office work station.
Their policy of denying sick leave to employees has proven disastrous to the business. I am one of many employees who have jumped ship for fairer working conditions and many clients have left the firm out of frustration. This makes sense. I’ve read that denying sick leave to workers costs employers a lot more than providing sick leave costs in the long run.
The reason why I think it is important to highlight this issue in the white collar sector is that my colleagues and I were all college-educated professionals. When we were denied sick leave, we were able to find fairer employment elsewhere. For many Americans, this is not an option, and I imagine if it was possible to treat “professional” workers this poorly, conditions for service sector and blue collar workers must frequently be much worse.
Everyone, regardless of level of skill, should have the right to take care of themselves or their families if sickness strikes. With paid sick day policies winning in local municipalities across the country, and national leaders like yourself standing strongly behind this common sense policy, I look forward to the day when this is a reality.
Dear Mr. President,
I am a working mother of two, soon to be three, children. Both my husband and I work full-time in Philadelphia, and we live in Southern New Jersey. I have been an employee of the University of Pennsylvania for almost eight years. Penn is the largest private employer in the city of Philadelphia and offers some of the greatest benefits to its faculty and staff. However, like most employers in the United States, they do not offer much support for working parents in the form of paid time off.
My husband and I were elated to see the city of Philadelphia adopt a new law in 2015 that requires paid sick leave for all employees, which includes leave for care of a family member. While I do not live in the city, I was directly impacted by this law when my employer reacted by changing its policy on the use of sick time for the care of dependents. Before the Paid Sick Leave law was passed, I was allowed to use only three of my annually accrued sick days for the care of my children when they are ill. As a result of this law, Penn changed that amount to five sick days.
Those 48 hours have had an impact on my family. As you know, when you have more than one small child in your home, they share everything, including illnesses. No matter how much parents may try, strep throat in one often becomes strep throat in the other very quickly. Just before this past Christmas, my two-year-old developed pink eye, which meant he was banned from daycare for a day, and not even a day later, I was home with my four-year-old for the same reason. I can expect this kind of chaos to only increase when we have three children this spring, but I am grateful that I won’t have to use as much of my vacation time, or as is the case this year, the paid time off I would use to pay for maternity leave for the care of my newborn, when one or both of my children fall ill.
We are all aware that the amount of time given to working parents to care for their children lags behind most other countries on this planet. However, things like Philadelphia’s Paid Sick Leave law are a baby step in the right direction. I hope and pray that by the time my children have kids, they will have less difficult choices to make regarding their careers and their families.
Oaklyn, NJ 08107
Dear President Obama,
Three years ago I delivered a full term bouncing baby boy. He weighed seven pounds and three ounces and everything was fine, with one exception: I had to choose between taking care of my newborn baby and going back to work. Even though my hourly wage was limited to $7.60 a hour at that time, my household relied on my income. So, I had to go back to work only three weeks after giving birth.
Three weeks is an insufficient amount of time to stay home with a newborn. Going back to work so early further strained my body both physically and mentally. My job was physically taxing and my body was in no condition to perform the lifting and pulling required of a Home Health Aide.
Also, despite my best efforts, my mind was not completely focused on my client. I was stressed and constantly worried about different components of my baby’s care; like his child care arrangements and feeding schedule. I wasn’t even able to breastfeed my child. I had to pump and he was fed through a bottle due to the fact that I had to go back to work so early in order to pay our bills.
I’m one of the millions of people in this country without Paid Family Leave Insurance. My experience was heartbreaking, and even though we got through it, no one should have to choose between having a roof overhead and taking care of a newborn child.
Dear President Obama,
As a business owner, I know generous benefits are a smart move. They allow companies to stay competitive by attracting and retaining the best and brightest. A more loyal, productive workforce leads to a better bottom line. That’s why we’re proud to offer paid family leave at UncommonGoods.
Many small businesses here in New York and around the country cannot afford to offer paid family leave, but their employees are equally in need, and as a result, those firms lose valuable employees to larger companies that can afford such benefits.
For most of us, nothing is more important than our families. Being able to be there for the major life moments we all go through- the arrival of a new child or the serious illness of a loved one—is critical. That’s why a proposed employee-funded system is gaining support across NYS, and I understand our adjoining states of Connecticut and Massachusetts will be close to passing versions of paid family leave in 2016.
The New York Paid Family Leave Insurance Act would provide a modest 12 weeks of paid leave, funded by small employee payroll deductions. We already have the infrastructure in place to do this, without any new administrative requirements, with our Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) program.
The proposed bill would also modernize the TDI program—which is currently frozen at the 1989 rate of $170 per week. This would mean a small increase in the insurance premium, shared between employees and employers—one that would not be burdensome for businesses and is woefully overdue.
A growing body of evidence shows that statewide paid-family-leave programs have positive or neutral effects on profitability, productivity, employee turnover and morale.
Paid family leave should not just be a company perk for the lucky few: New York’s families and its economy are stronger when no one has to fear that the birth of a child or serious illness of a parent could mean financial ruin.
As the New York Paid Family Leave Campaign continues to build robust support across the state, I will continue to do what I can to move this campaign forward in 2016, as a small business owner who recognizes the difference this policy makes in my employees’ families’ lives.
Thank you, Mr President, for your leadership on paid family leave. Since you mentioned the importance of it in your SOTU last year, many businesses have rushed to improve their paid family leave benefits and several municipalities have passed a version of paid family leave. Urging Governors, Mayors and businesses to continue to move forward on paid family leave next Tuesday will keep the pressure on for them to help workers meet their family obligations without sacrificing their economic security.
David Bolotsky, CEO
Dear President Obama,
My name is Diana Limongi, I am 33 years old and I live in New York. I am writing to you to share my story about how not having access to paid family leave has affected my family. I am now at a point where we would like to have another child, yet that is impossible for me, because I cannot afford to take an unpaid leave.
This angers me because the United States is supposed to lead by example and is supposed to be the best in the world. However, it’s leaving its mothers (and fathers) high and dry when it comes to having the ability to have children and care for them properly.
I have always done everything right. I went to college, I pay taxes and I provide for my child. I am a responsible adult and I even own my own home. Yet I find myself in a predicament. I cannot afford to expand my family because I cannot take an unpaid leave from work, because that would mean I couldn’t pay for my mortgage or any other bills during that time. It’s ridiculous that these are the kind of choices responsible and hardworking adults are left with. But it isn’t only about people like me- it’s also about people who are struggling to live paycheck to paycheck. How can they afford to take unpaid time off? It is those people that are hit the hardest.
Not having access to paid family leave puts undue stress on millions of parents in the United States, particularly mothers. Mothers are put in a hard place: providing for their families/paying the bills versus bonding and taking care of their newborn babies. Mothers without paid leave also do not have time to heal properly.
The United States is a country that often calls itself “family-friendly” yet it is everything but—I realize a societal change needs to occur. Mothers and fathers are not being selfish by choosing to become parents, quite the opposite. We are choosing to bring life into this world, and those babies will be future doctors, teachers, and even Presidents! When we are on maternal or paternal leave, we are not “on vacation.” It’s work and we deserve to get paid family leave, just like the rest of the developed world, and the developing world, for that matter.
I’m hoping when you address the Nation for the last time next week, you again urge businesses, Governors and Mayors to provide paid family leave, so that workers will have time to be good parents to their newborns and to care for seriously ill family members, at critical times in their work lives.
In my home state of New York, I will be urging the NYS Legislature to pass Paid Family Leave in 2016.
Thank you for all you have done for families and for being a champion for paid family leave. With your leadership I hope paid family leave will become a reality for millions of more workers in 2016, and for the entire country when passed by Congress in the next few years.
Dear Mr. President,
My name is Shaun Sieren, owner of Biddy McGraw’s Public House in Portland, Oregon. I am a member of the leadership circle of Main Street Alliance. My family has owned this business for 15+ years and we have always believed that treating out employees with respect by giving them flexibility to care for themselves and their loved ones when they are sick, is the right thing to do.
Oregon recently passed a Paid Sick Days law statewide and although we implemented this policy years ago, I am glad that other businesses now have the chance to do the right thing. When we created our policy it was as simple as having our accountant include the calculations, like any of the other deductions, in the payroll process. It was very easy and my employees are grateful for the time.
I have found that my employees generally don’t even use their accrued time but are glad to have that cushion in case anything did go wrong with their health or they needed to care for their sick child or partner. I see their loyalty because they know that I care about them and their families. Plus, I don’t want them to get our customers sick because they can’t afford to stay home. As a business owner and a customer of other businesses in my community, I appreciate having this law in place. It’s better for everyone to have the peace of mind, that a sick person isn’t forced to make or serve your food.
I am supportive of something like this passing nationwide and I would urge you to take the time to highlight this great law in Oregon so that others across the country can understand the value in supporting our workforce, specifically those that work in the restaurant business. A healthy community is a prosperous community.
Biddy McGraw’s Public House
Dear President Obama,
My name is Bill Dickey. I am the co-owner of Morel Ink a commercial printing, direct mail, and promotional products distributor, located in NE Portland, and a member of the Main Street Alliance of Oregon’s Statewide Leadership Circle. We have approximately 30 employees; our 16 production employees are covered by a union contract. I am in full support and proud of Oregon’s Paid Sick Leave policy.
My first reaction to the paid sick leave proposal that was recently passed in Oregon, was that we probably already offered this to our employees. I knew we did not dock our salaried employees for missed sick days, after researching our union contract I learned that we did not offer sick pay per se. We do offer vacation pay, holiday pay & funeral pay, and was grateful to learn that if I offered paid vacation or what is known as earned paid time off, I was already covered. We offer one week paid vacation after one year of employment, which builds up to 3 weeks paid vacation after 5 years of employment. What we did not have was a specific plan on how to accrue the time off for the first year. With the new law, we now have a rule for how to give out paid time off in the first year as workers earn it, so that is actually helpful.
I have always believed that employees who are sick should stay home. I want to avoid the flu or cold from rolling through the company whenever possible. But moreover I want employees to feel that it is cool to take a day when they need it for any reason, it builds loyalty, trust, and goodwill. There are plenty of times I ask them for an extra effort so it only seems fair to give back when they need it. I am here today to say that I am so grateful the State of Oregon has passed this policy statewide. This policy is the right thing to do nationwide, and for people who think this is big government telling them what to do, I think of this analogy… Workers comp insurance is a mandatory rule; all employers have to provide this coverage to their employees. Years ago it was not mandatory but now it is. This policy will be like that – in few years people will just think that it is a forgone rule, something that is just done. Thank You.
Dear Mr. President,
My name is Anastasia Hernandez Vasquez and I am a full time worker who struggles to provide for my family. Neither my husband nor I received any paid sick leave from our employers. This put us in a very vulnerable position and we were often been forced to make difficult decisions when either of us or one of our children gets sick.
Staying home to recover from an illness even for a day meant we lost a substantial part of our income and had to decide what part of the budget has to be cut that month: utilities, groceries, gas or things our growing children need, like a new pair of pants.
I have been threatened with the loss of my job. The times when I attempted to call in sick, I was told that if I wasn’t going to bother to come to work that day than I wouldn’t need to bother with showing up ever again. On one of these occasions, my employer insisted I remain through my shift even after witnessing me become physically ill in my wastebasket. It is demoralizing to be treated with such disrespect. My co-workers have been put in this demoralizing position.
But the most heartbreaking of all was the impact upon my special needs child. My 9 year-old son was diagnosed with tactile dysfunction and his doctor recommended he receive therapy once a week. He attended therapy for four months and we began to see great improvements in his behavior. Unfortunately, each of these appointments required me to take a couple of hours of sick leave and my employer was unable to accommodate this time off. My husband and I had no other option but to pull him out of therapy and we saw his behavior begin to regress.
Now that will be different because we’ve won Paid Sick Days in Oregon! Mr. President because I chose to speak up in support of Paid Sick Days, it means that my family will not suffer as much. My family will have greater stability and more peace of mind knowing that if we get sick, we won’t be discriminated against. And, I am proud that the Paid Sick Days law also helps my community.
Thank you Mr. President for your support in helping working families do better to care for ourselves and those we love.
Dear Mr. President,
I work as a waitress at a restaurant in Gresham, OR that is part of a large chain. I have worked with the parent company for 10 years, off and on. Before that I worked in construction, telecommunications, restaurants, transit, and child care. I have three children. I have never had a single paid sick day.
A few years ago, when I was working in construction, I sprained my ankle badly and couldn’t go to work for a week. I didn’t have any paid sick days, so I lost a whole week’s pay — which meant I wasn’t able to pay all my bills and wasn’t able to pay for gas. It took a month for me to catch up on my bills.
A single mother of three sons, I also struggle to care for them when they get sick. Before the state law went into effect, when my youngest got the flu, one of my older sons had to stay home from school to care for him. His high school would excuse the absence, but my employer would not. And I couldn’t afford to take the time away from work anyway.
For the reasons listed above I have worked in many areas to help with the passage of our new Paid Sick Days law! I have spoken out to the press, testified and shared with others the importance of supporting the passage of Paid Sick Dazys.
I feel enormous pride seeing the documentation on my pay check that not only do I now have Paid Sick Day but so does my co-workers, my community and the state of Oregon!
Thank you, Mr. President for your continued support in making the lives of working American, especially single moms, better.
Dear President Obama,
In January of 2015 I gave birth to my third son, nearly two months before he was due to be born. In the chaos that followed his arrival, our life became centered around the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and the care that he needed. With two children at home and our full time careers, my husband and I struggled to balance our work, our family and the profound difficulty of watching our newborn child struggle to survive. As our son’s condition improved, we faced the difficulties of adjusting our home life to support a child with an underdeveloped immune system and difficulty feeding. It was in one of these moments a NICU nurse told us about the State of Rhode Island’s Temporary Caregivers Insurance program or TCI. For my husband and me, TCI gave us a combined 8 weeks of paid, job-protected leave to bond with and care for our newborn son. Those 8 weeks allowed us to be active participants in his NICU team, prepare for his release from the hospital and provide him the safe at home care that was vital to his health and wellbeing.
The impact of TCI in our lives was twofold. First, it allowed us the financial security to focus on our child during his greatest time of need. Second, it articulated the important message to that there is value in caring for the young, the sick and the weak and that we as a society support that work. Today, my son is at home and my husband and I have been able to return to our jobs.
I am deeply grateful to the state of RI for their support of our family, during perhaps our darkest hours. I urge you to consider the impact of this support for families nationwide. No mother, no parent, no one should be forced to choose between their career and their loved ones, or between their financial wellbeing and their moral compass. I ask that you use the power of your voice to send a message that we as a country believe that it is our great duty, honor and privilege to support each other in a time of need and that we believe these core values of compassion, commitment and integrity should be celebrated.
Dear President Obama,
Workers in Vermont have anticipated statewide earned sick time for a number of years. In April, the first hurdle was cleared when the Vermont House passed the healthy workplaces bill, a measure that would allow eligible employees to accrue a minimum number of paid hours annually to address health-related issues for themselves or a family member. Typically, expanding worker protection policies creates an “employer versus employee” context, but this modest attempt to accommodate workers’ health or that of their children is undoubtedly reasonable for businesses like ours, and we urge the state Senate to pass it.
We are not alone in our support for a statewide minimum standard of paid sick days. In its recent report, “Voices of Main Street,” the Main Street Alliance surveyed 145 small business owners across the Green Mountain State on a number of issues including child care costs, minimum wage and paid sick days. The latter secured overwhelming support with more than 68 percent of small to midsize business owners answering “yes” when asked if they supported the minimum standard of paid sick days for Vermonters.
We’ve owned and operated Red Hen Baking Co. since 1999, and for years we’ve offered our employees a flexible package of paid leave that can be used for sick time or vacation. For us in particular, we were influenced by the hardship we saw our employees endure when they had to take unpaid time off to care for their sick children. Child care costs are already a major issue in their lives; the least we could do was provide some measure of financial protection when they had to be home with their child. When asked if they ever experienced difficulty finding affordable health care, just under 35 percent of business owners surveyed said yes, so we know this is an issue for some of our employees too.
At first, as a growing small business we were concerned with costs, but over time we realized that our paid leave policy was an integral part of our business model. We attract a more talented, loyal and mature workforce that we can trust to deliver quality. Workers may need to be out occasionally to care for a child, but they are more stable employees who maintain a productive work environment.
Parents who are able to take a day off without falling short on their monthly bills keep other children in school and day care facilities healthier. Every day sick children are sent to school or day care because their parents are left without any other option. Families are often stretched too thin to afford to take the day off without pay, and other children are at risk because of it.
Earning paid sick days isn’t just about caring for an employee’s sick loved one, it is also about caring for themselves. The ability to take the day off allows employees to visit their doctor to receive medication or advice. Without the time to seek medical advice, or take a day or two to get some much-needed rest, employees will stay sick longer. While they may still be able to clock in in the morning, their productivity is sapped and their morale is in the toilet.
We know that investing in the benefits that our employees need to stay healthy and focused at work is good for our business. We see every day how our investment in our staff shows in their attention to detail and their work to ensure high-quality service to our customers. You don’t manage to stay in business as long as we have by serving great bread and baked goods alone. It takes a great group of employees and smart business decisions. Keeping those employees on board with common-sense, supportive policies like earned paid sick time is one of those smart business decisions.
We thank the President for calling on Congress to act and we look forward to the advancement of paid sick days across the nation.
Randy George and Eliza Cain,
Owners of Red Hen Baking Co.
Members, Main Street Alliance
Dear President Obama,
When it comes to supporting the paid sick days bill in Vermont, my reasons are both professional and personal. This bill would require employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees if an employee needs routine medical care, is ill or injured, or to care for an ill family member. In addition, it can be used if an employee needs to take steps for their safety as a result of sexual abuse, domestic violence or stalking.
Professionally, as the director of human resources at Chroma Technology, an employee-owned company that manufactures optical filters, I am in a position to see how illness impacts both our employees and our overall productivity.
On a personal level, my husband is a diabetic who has had multiple related minor surgeries and hospitalizations over the course of our nine years of marriage. In fact, while he is generally able to work full time with minimal absences, his choice of professions was made in part to assure he would have adequate paid time off when he did have medical issues. In 2005, he went back to school to study massage therapy and then worked as a licensed massage therapist for a year and a half. After a hospitalization to stabilize his sugar after having the flu, followed a few months later by an arm injury, he concluded that the lack of paid time off was too significant of a factor for him to continue with that work.
Coincidentally, one of his friends is also diabetic and recently had to be hospitalized for close to a month with ketoacidosis. His wife, who didn’t have paid time off available, spent her time divided between work, the hospital, and caring for their two children. I can’t imagine how she was able to cope with that level of stress and I doubt she was able to be as effective at supporting her family or her job during that period.
I’ve been fortunate to always work for quality employers, who have provided sick time in excess of what the paid sick leave bill would require. Hearing our friend’s story and recognizing how easily I could be in a similar position to his wife led me to start to speak out on the importance of paid sick leave, even before I learned of the pending bill.
As I shared my story with employees and friends, others shared theirs with me as well. An employee who has a child with diabetes told me that she mentioned how grateful she was to have Chroma as an employer at every support group meeting she and her partner attended.
Sadly, there were also stories of those who have been in positions where they’ve had to work when they were ill or injured.
From a humanitarian perspective, it feels wrong that people have to make that choice, but when it comes down to it, it isn’t good business either. I don’t want an employee working whose mind isn’t on the job because they are thinking about how they are going to balance it with caring for a sick family member. Distracted employees make mistakes, and it’s questionable if we gain more than we lose from their presence. Even more than that, I don’t want an ill employee on site, potentially infecting others.
The Vermont Paid Sick Days Bill would ensure that all Vermont employees have a bank of paid sick leave. While ideally, I’d like to see the number of hours required increased, it is an excellent start. As a human resources professional in Vermont, I’m pleased that it gives employers flexibility in regards to administration and should be easy to implement. As a Vermont taxpayer, I appreciate that there will be minimal associated administrative costs. As a caring community member, I will appreciate knowing that all working people in Vermont will have the option of focusing on their and their family’s health and well-being for at least a few days each year. I thank you for your call for action and look forward to seeing this issue progress across the nation.
Angela Earle Gray
Director of Human Resources at Chroma Technology
Member of the Main Street Alliance of Vermont’s Workplace Policy Issue Advisory
Bellows Falls, VT 05101
Dear President Obama:
I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and my employment is with Journey Mental Health Center in Madison, WI. I am also an entrepreneur and the owner of Mary’s Daughter LLC, where I provide Daily Money Management (DMM) services to older adults and Veterans.
My FMLA story started in January 2013 when I completed the paperwork to be approved for job protection once my mother entered hospice. My sister over the past 9 years has served as the primary care taker of my mother. However, she was scheduled to have knee replacement surgery last July, and needed to reserve some time to recuperate before resuming the primary caregiving for our mother.
I completed the necessary forms and my employer and supervisor were very supportive and allowed me the time and flexibility I needed to care for my mom. I had to use a combination of paid and unpaid time off to cover the necessary care for my mother.
Paid time off would have allowed me and my sister to care for our mother and ourselves with no issue. The money I lost while on unpaid leave was a hardship, but my mother’s care was far more important.
Family Leave Insurance both locally and nationally allows families to balance caring for medical family needs without losing wages or their jobs. I had the flexibility to use unpaid time but many families don’t even have that ability. Having affordable time to take care of a family member is sound policy that benefits not just my finances but my family’s peace of mind.
My mother passed away on February 26, 2014. I am ever grateful for the time we had with mom, and our ability to care for her and still keep our jobs. Please urge the State of Wisconsin and eventually our nation’s government to pass paid leave for all families.
Dear President Obama,
My name is Daniel Bonnean and I am employed by the City of Milwaukee. Some years ago my wife suddenly become ill and needed a caretaker. It is my responsibility to care for my wife and family, so I applied for Wisconsin Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). I submitted my information to my employer and was able to use my sick time as wage replacement. I was off for two weeks caring for my wife.
Without intermittent leave or some kind of wage replacement it would have been hard on my family to do this. I couldn’t imagine having to take unpaid time for an unexpected health concern.
My family is very important to me. The choice to care for a loved one should not be at the expense of keeping money in your pocket. Paid leave laws should be strengthened not weakened or working people will be hurt!
I hope you will speak to this in your State of the Union speech again this year. It really helped.