FMLA- It’s Just Not Enough

By Anney Bolgiano, Programs and Policy Intern

California and New Jersey are on opposite coasts. New Jersey’s population is 8.8 million, while California’s is a whopping 38.4 million. Their climates are different, their histories are different and they are separated by nearly 3,000 miles. But there is one very important thing California and New Jersey do have in common: paid family and medical leave.

Unfortunately, California and New Jersey stand out as the only two states with fully funded and functioning paid leave programs in the US.

THE PROBLEM:

“But we have something,” a friend says to me, after I explained the lack of paid leave to her, “didn’t Clinton do something?” The “something” she is referring to is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), passed in 1993. FMLA provides 12 weeks unpaid, job protected leave for recovery from a personal medical condition or to care for a seriously ill family member. But many Americans simply cannot afford to give up 12 weeks worth of wages.

THE SOLUTION:

On Wednesday, May 29th, the National Work and Family Coalition hosted the congressional briefing Paid Family and Medical Leave: Ensuring Economic Security for Workers, Employers and Communities. The speakers were state Sen. Gayle Goldin of Rhode Island, Ruth Milkman, Professor of Sociology CUNY Graduate Center, and Permelia Toney-Boss, a New Jersey worker personally impacted by need for paid leave. All three women delivered earnest and informed arguments for the importance of paid family and medical leave.

The paid family and medical leave program outlined at the briefing would “provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of paid leave for their own serious illness; the serious illness of a parent, child or spouse (including domestic partner); the birth or adoption of a child; the injury of a family member who is in the military; or exigencies arising from a service members deployment.” The proposed funding would come from “employer and employee contributions two-tenths of one percent of the worker’s wages,” amounting to “less than $1.50 a week for the average worker.”

More details are available on the NPWF factsheet, The Case for a National and Medical Leave Insurance Programcited above.

WHY IT WORKS:

Prof. Milkman shared data from her forthcoming book Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy, by Ruth Milkman and Eileen Appelbaum*. The data Milkman brought to the panel challenged the argument that paid family and medical leave is damaging to businesses.

According to Milkman and Appelbaum’s 2010 employer survey, the effects of paid family and medical leave on businesses in California is hardly noticeable. 88.3% of employers reported no noticeable effect on profitability and performance, 87% reported to noticeable effect on employee productivity, 88.6% reported no noticeable effect on employee turnover and 13.1% reported a positive effect on employee moral.

The negative effect of business is nearly non-existent, but the positive effect on workers and their families is indisputable. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF), “Paid leave programs in California and New Jersey have created more than one million periods of leave for workers who are caring for a child or ill family member.” For women, paid leave may be even more important, according to the NPWF, “Paid leave helps women stay in the work force and is associated with higher wages over time.” Access to paid family and medical leave can also reduce health care costs. For example, a child’s hospital visit is cut down by 31% simply by having a parent present.

Caring for an ill family member, bonding with a new child, or recovering from ones own illness are natural parts of life that are socially relevant and deserve recognition and accommodation. Paid family and medical leave isn’t just about individuals in individual circumstances, but also creating a caring culture, one that understands interconnectivity.

The statistics make a clear case for paid family and medical leave, and so do the many voices of those who need it most. Family Values at Work has collected many stories from workers who see and experience, first hand, the need for paid family and medical leave.

We have the power to provide Paid Family and Medical Leave. Let’s continue to put pressure on Congress to prioritize workers, prioritize families, prioritize fairness and follow in New Jersey and California’s examples in making our whole country a better place to live and work.

 

*Complete citation for Milkman and Appelbaum’s book: Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy, by Ruth Milkman and Eileen Appelbaum* (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, fall 2013) © 2013 

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