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OP-ED | The Time Is At Hand for Paid Family and Medical Leave

by | Feb 10, 2015 1:10pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Health Care, Jobs, Labor, Opinion, State Capitol

What do a beautiful newborn baby and an old woman with dementia have in common? They both need lots of care and both underscore the hypocrisy of a society that claims to place family values above all else, but does precious little to support policies that would actually make taking care of babies, elders and ourselves economically feasible, practical and humane. It is time to change that.

More than two decades ago, Connecticut led the way in implementing a system of (unpaid) family and medical leave that was essentially a jobs protection act. It assured workers the security of knowing they could not be fired if they had to take extended leave to care for themselves, a child or a parent. With passage of the Parental and Medical Leave Act, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to have such legislation; in subsequent years, the bill was expanded and became the blueprint for landmark federal law. U.S. Rep. John Larson, while still a state senator, was instrumental in the bill’s passage.

Now, recognizing that FMLA has become a universally accepted right for millions of workers in Connecticut and nationwide, the state legislature is considering a bill for paid family and medical leave that, if passed, would be the most comprehensive in the nation. The bill’s sponsors rightly believe that paid family leave – paid for through an employee-funded pool managed by the state Department of Labor – makes eminent sense.

The Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) and the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF), two organizations that worked on the original FMLA legislation, are teaming up in leading the charge on this expanded version of family and medical leave, because women are still the primary caregivers in times of need. To be sure, paid leave would benefit everyone, regardless of gender. But the reality is that too many women of childbearing age see their careers derailed just as they are taking off. Women in their mid-20s to early 40s are the demographic employers seek most often, and yet the biological clock has its own imperatives. And what of women at the prime of their careers who must increasingly act on behalf of aging parents, or who suddenly find themselves dealing with an illness of their own (or that of a spouse)? It’s hard to “lean in” when there’s no employer-sponsored provision to lean against.

That’s why we are co-chairing, along with CWEALF, the Campaign for Paid Family Leave, a coalition of nearly 50 organizations that support paid leave (see them here). In August of last year, the Campaign for Paid Family Leave put forth a series of recommendations (read them here) that are more expansive than those made later by a legislative task force charged with studying the issue.

As with so many progressive acts, including Social Security and Medicare, FMLA was initially met with opposition in some corners. And so will paid family and medical leave be met, until some myths surrounding it are debunked.

There are those who say that paid family and medical leave will be too expensive for business to implement and maintain. In fact, we are calling for a system funded entirely by employee contributions and administered by the Department of Labor, with very little to no costs to businesses.

Others fear it’s another example of government “over-reach” into workers’ pockets. In fact, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that just one-quarter of one percent of a worker’s earnings is needed to fund a plan that provides adequate replacement wages, should they be needed. And since no one plans to get cancer, for example, doesn’t this kind of safety net make sense, just as other kinds of insurance protect us against the unforeseen?

Another common misconception is that paid family and medical leave has failed in other states.
In reality, similar programs in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have been well received, and polling shows that paid family and medical leave in California has had either a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on productivity, profitability, performance, turnover, and employee morale.

Another myth commonly promulgated is that the gender-based wage gap is unaffected by the lack of paid leave. For some perspective, let’s look abroad to three countries that are culturally akin to our own: Sweden, France and Ireland all have significantly lower wage gaps than the U.S., but also have much better leave policies, (Sweden offers 56 weeks’ leave at 80 percent of salary; France gives up to 42, and Ireland gives 26 weeks paid leave).

Ultimately, we are making it possible for workers to continue to earn a wage while caring for those they love, without relying on employers’ benevolence. The right for women to be effective mothers and productive employees, and the right for men to be loyal workers and devoted fathers – is one that should apply to everyone, not just the lucky few who work for companies with progressive policies. Paid family and medical leave puts the control where it belongs – with the worker, who happens also to be a devoted daughter, a reliable son, a responsible parent, a loyal grandchild, a loving sibling or a concerned spouse.

The bottom line for us is this: Are we in the United States comfortable with being ranked with the likes of Liberia, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea when it comes to our treatment of women and their families? Along with the U.S., those three countries are the only ones that offer no paid leave to mothers and fathers who have just had – or adopted – a baby. One is hard-pressed to think of any other standard (e.g. GDP, research and development, human rights) where this is the company we’d gladly keep. So why is it OK to be like those countries when it comes to this one very important category which has direct bearing on a family’s economic security? Isn’t it time we implemented paid leave – a cornerstone of family-friendly workplace policies – or else stopped pretending we actually hold the family sacrosanct?

Carolyn Treiss is executive director of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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(6) Archived Comments

posted by: Biff Winnetka | February 10, 2015  5:49pm

Yes, by all means, let’s drive even MORE businesses out of Connecticut.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and wager that Carolyn Treiss has never owned a business and quite possibly has never spent a day in the private sector.

Ha!  She cites California, New Jersey and Rhode Island to support her argument.  Have you looked at the balance sheets for those states lately Carolyn.  Never mind the fact that those three states are at the top of the list for people and businesses leaving in droves.


posted by: DrHunterSThompson | February 10, 2015  6:10pm

Biff be right.


posted by: whatsprogressiveaboutprogressives? | February 10, 2015  6:17pm

So the bills sponsors want yet another state agency to oversee yet another dedicated fund? This in a state whose politicians just can’t keep their hands off of every other so called dedicated fund because of the incessant thirst for spending. We see the recent discussions over the toll re-implementation and our beloved governor is claiming that (my words now) a titanium built, super dee duper lock box will prevent the statists/regressives from robbing it. But basically, the way he worded his speech, he indirectly acknowledged that it had been raided. And we’re suppose to trust them again? Oh yeah, but this time they really, truly mean it.
Given that the PCSW is cited in the article, they and all other gender and/or ethic commissions should be eliminated from the state budget. There duties can be handled and absorbed by the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. Oh yeah and those serving on these commissions simply don’t get transferred to CHRO. They get pink slipped.

posted by: Commissioner | February 10, 2015  6:41pm

” very little to no costs to business”.
Completely false—who will pay the company for the lost productivity? Who will pay the company for added benefits management costs? Will the leave time count towards a pension or medical benefits longevity/eligibility? When will it go to 26 weeks? 52 weeks? Unlimited? Lets socially engineer business some more—why? Because we want it to be fair! Nobody should have to choose.. Get real—life is all about choices.
Has anyone ever found a government program that was delivered on time, on budget and delivered what it promised? One example?

posted by: justsayin | February 10, 2015  10:29pm

Hard to give this article any real attention when the author is pushing their agenda and job through written opinion. why not have a leave fund that each family contributes to for their use. Let’s not keep re-distributing others money for your own crusade.

posted by: GuilfordResident | February 11, 2015  9:14am

You know, you can buy short-term disability insurance that pays a substantial percentage of your salary when you’re out of work.

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