Activists in Cities and States Nationwide Call for Paid Sick Days, Expanded Family and Medical Leave Insurance
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 22, 2013
CONTACT: Emma Stieglitz, emmaS@berlinrosen.com, 646.200.5307
Two decades after the implementation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), voters across the country are mobilizing to demand expanded protections so they can care for and provide for their families. This has been a landmark year for advancements in work-family policies fueled by a growing urgency for progress on popular, common sense solutions like paid sick days and affordable family leave. Nationwide, 86 percent of voters support paid sick days. FMLA also remains enormously popular, with 88 percent of Americans supporting the law. To commemorate the anniversary and build on recent victories, voters are organizing and meeting with elected leaders nationwide to call for updated measures that strengthen families and the economy and promote public health.
“The Family and Medical Leave Act was an important step forward and it’s helped a lot of families, but for many of us, those protections are out of reach,” said Emely Romero, a retail worker who is now an apprentice organizer with the Coalition For Social Justice from New Bedford. “As a single mother, if I took time to care for my daughter when she gets sick, I wouldn’t have money to put food on the table, and it could even get me fired. That’s why we’re working so hard to pass Earned Sick Time in Massachusetts. Nobody should be forced to choose between caring for a loved one in need and keeping their job.”
Florida kicked off the nationwide activity with a Miami press conference on August 5, attended by staff from South Florida’s congressional delegation. Today, the University of Southern Maine will co-host a forum with the Maine Women’s Lobby to discuss women’s economic security and hear from local residents about how policies like FMLA have benefitted their families. On Friday, Congressman Tierney is hosting an event with Leader Nancy Pelosi to discuss the Economic Agenda for Women and Families, where they will listen to women from across Massachusetts share their struggles with balancing work and family, and call for the adoption of a statewide sick days law. Coalition members in Washington State are holding meetings with their lawmakers to discuss the importance of stronger work-family protections. In Wisconsin activists will gather signatures to protect and strengthen the state’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance law.
On August 26, Michigan State Representative Rudy Hobbs will join UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada and women’s advocates to call for paid sick days on a state and national level. Pennsylvania State Rep. Dan Truitt will join City Councilman Bill Greenlee in Philadelphia to call for expanded work-family protections. Next month in Rhode Island, Senator Jack Reed, and former Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd will join local lawmakers and activists to celebrate Rhode Island’s new Temporary Caregiver Insurance Fund and call for passage of the FAMILY Act. Similar events and celebrations are planned in Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington, D.C.
“Our economy isn’t going to have a full recovery until working families can make ends meet,” said Ellen Bravo, Executive Director of Family Values @ Work. “In places where these laws have passed, paid sick days and family leave insurance are helping families and businesses operate in today’s economy. The grassroots mobilization that we’re seeing resembles the huge momentum that led to the federal FMLA. Voters are standing up for their families and their jobs, and elected leaders are realizing that these policies are not just good for families, but good for economic stability.”
This spring Portland, Oregon and New York City became the fourth and fifth cities to adopt paid sick days laws, and Rhode Island passed a precedent-setting family leave insurance fund that protects the jobs of all workers who need to take time to care for loved ones.
Nationally, lawmakers are taking up the banner of work-family protections as a way to appeal to women voters and fix the economy. Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro, Donna Edwards and Doris Matsui included affordable family leave as a core policy in the recently announced Economic Agenda for Women and Families. In February, President Clinton called for paid family leave and President Obama committed to “redoubling efforts” to guarantee working families access to affordable family leave. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Sen. Tom Harkin introduced the Healthy Families Act in February, which would set a national sick days standard. And the FAMILY Act, which would establish a national family leave insurance program, is expected to be introduced in Congress in late September.
“Most families need two incomes to stay afloat in this economy—that means there isn’t a full time caregiver at home. A health crisis or even a routine illness can cost someone a job or cause people to fall behind on their rent and other basic necessities. The problem is especially perilous for single-parent families, who can easily be driven into poverty because they lack these basic protections,” said Eileen Appelbaum, Senior Economist at the Center for Economic Policy Research. “If we want to fix the economy, working people need money in their pockets, and they need to be able to care for their kids without worrying about losing critical income or their jobs.”
Family Values @ Work is the national network of city and state coalitions fighting to advance fair workplace policies like paid sick days and family and medical leave insurance. For more information visit familyvaluesatwork.org
Follow the action on Twitter at: #paidleavenow and follow @fmlyvalueswork
Read the stories of workers who have been fired because they did not have access to paid sick days.
Read the personal stories of working people across the country who benefitted from FMLA, or suffered due to the lack of protection.
Signed by President Bill Clinton, the FMLA was the nation’s first federal law that guaranteed Americans protected time to care for loved ones. It offers 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave, which can be used to care for a new baby, a sick family member, or to recover from an illness. Since its implementation in August 1993, FMLA leave has been used more than 100 million times by an estimated 35 million men and women. But two-fifths of the workforce is not covered by FMLA, and several million workers each year who are eligible and need leave don’t take it because they cannot afford to go without pay. Federal FMLA leaves out workers in smaller companies and many part-timers; it has a narrow definition of family that does not include domestic partners or siblings; and it does not cover routine illnesses.
To fill in the gaps left by FMLA, grassroots coalitions of workers, caregivers, advocates for women, children, seniors and people with disabilities, labor leaders, business owners, economists, faith leaders, immigrants’ rights groups and community groups in cities and states across the country are working to advance paid sick days and family leave insurance law on a local level. Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. are working to expand their existing paid sick days laws to cover all workers. Campaigns for statewide sick days laws are moving forward in Vermont, Massachusetts, Oregon and elsewhere. These recent wins and active campaigns build on past victories in Connecticut, Seattle, Washington, D.C.and San Francisco.
For health crises that require longer-term care, states are implementing their own programs to make family leave affordable. In 2002, California became the first state to implement a Paid Family Leave program, followed in 2009 by New Jersey. The programs have been enormously successful, with 1.4 million claims filed in California and 100,000 filed in New Jersey since their implementation, and high levels of support among business owners and workers. New York State is the next state likely to pass a family leave insurance program. In Washington State, a paid leave program awaits funding. Connecticut and several other states are laying the groundwork for similar legislation.