By Jackie O’Shea
MNA Government Affairs Administrative Assistant
As the Governmental Affairs Assistant for MNA, I don’t typically write blogs. I support the political and legislative staff and send you all the emails about Day on the Hill, calls to action, events, and volunteering. However, I’m currently filling in on this week’s blog for MNA Political Organizer Extraordinaire Eileen Gavin, who is out on maternity leave for the summer.
I speak for all my co-workers and fellow union brothers and sisters who take pride in working for and belonging to a union that values the importance of family first. When I had my oldest son, I could not take time off from work. I was forced to leave my child and trade my health for economic security. I was the one of 40 percent of Americans who couldn’t access the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and in the face of tough options, I chose to go back to work.
Here are some fast facts about family leave in this country:
- Despite more and more mothers becoming the sole or primary breadwinner of households, the U.S. still lacks paid parental leave compared to 41 other developed nations.
- In 2016, only one in seven U.S. workers (14 percent) had access to paid family leave as an employee benefit, according to the Urban Institute.
- In a recent survey by Pew Research Center, 82 percent of U.S. adults say mothers should be able to take parental leave in the event of a new baby.
- According to Department of Labor statistics, only 60 percent of employees met all criteria for coverage and eligibility under the FMLA our only federal legislation that guarantees unpaid time off for family and medical leaves.
- Paid family leave has been shown to reduce infant mortality by as much as 20 percent (the U.S. currently ranks 37th of all countries on infant mortality).
Five states have passed and enacted paid family leave legislation since 2002, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington and New York, as well as the District of Columbia. These state programs provide partial wage replacement, as well as stronger return-to-work protections. This saves employers money through reduction in turnover costs. Turnover costs about 20 percent of a worker’s salary. It’s been repeatedly proven that paid family and medical leave is good for businesses.
For those who don’t have the voice of a union to collectively bargain parental leave or who don’t work for a private company that offers paid family leave packages, we need a state legislative solution so no Minnesotan has to choose economic security over health and family. The Minnesota Paid Family and Medical Leave Act of 2016 would have provided up to 12 weeks of pregnancy and medical leave and 12 weeks of family leave with a partial wage replacement. The 2016 bill received six Senate hearings, passed the Senate, but was blocked from the House floor. This year, it was blocked from hearings in both the House and Senate.
What can you do to help pass much-needed legislation in Minnesota?
- Follow the Minnesotans for Paid Family Leave, who are leading the collective charge for statewide paid family leave.
- We need to share our stories. Talk to your friends, family, and co-workers about the benefits and need for paid family leave for everyone. Share stories like the one from Amber Scorah, whose heartbreaking story about losing her child in daycare on her first day back at work emphasizes the struggle parents face when deciding between finances and the best thing for their families.
- Now that the legislative session is over, state senators and representatives will be hosting town halls between now and when the next session begins on February 20, 2018. It’s time to tell our representatives that the lives of families shouldn’t be a political football when public support is at an all-time high for paid family leave (click here to find your representatives).
This past session, the legislature passed a $550 million ‘Reinsurance Bill’—essentially a bribe for insurance companies to stay in the individual market and prevent their corporate greed from raising insurance premiums even higher. If the legislature can do that for rich insurance companies, then we can support families.
We can no longer wait on Congress to pass any meaningful legislation at the federal level. It’s time that we pass a statewide paid family leave policy in Minnesota for the benefit of all workers.