Tell WA legislators: Unleash the Family and Medical Leave Act

grandpaWe all need access to long-term leave at some point — whether to nurture a new child, fight cancer, or care for an aging parent. But too many Washington workers don’t have that option. They have to sacrifice health and family well-being to cover their bills.

Washington’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FaMLI) bill would protect people in those situations. But as of week three of a sixty-day legislative session, the FaMLI bill hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing. Without leadership’s approval, the bill will die in the Appropriations Committee, without even a chance for consideration by the full legislature.

Washington voters deserve to know whether their elected leaders will stand up and support our families. Please urge your representative to push for a hearing on the FaMLI bill in the House Appropriations Committee.

Sweden Is About To Give New Fathers A Third Month Of Paid Paternity Leave

Photo: Rasmus Andersson/Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Rasmus Andersson/Flickr Creative Commons

Sweden is a great place to be a dad, and the country is about to make things even better for soon-to-be fathers.

Beginning in 2016, men in the country will be entitled to a third (yes, third) month of paid paternal leave based on a new government proposal. The new plan builds on one of the world’s most generous parental leave policies, with nearly 90 percent of Swedish fathers using the benefit.

Swedish parents are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave when a child is born or adopted; 390 of those are paid at 80 percent of normal pay and, as of now, 60 of those are reserved exclusively for fathers. The days can be taken up until a child turns 8, and each new child garners new days of paid leave, so parents are able to accumulate days from several children.

If the days reserved for paternal leave aren’t used, they’re lost, encouraging both parents to stay home when a child is born. But parents are also legally entitled to cut their working hours by up to 25 percent until a child’s eighth birthday.

Sadly, fathers and mothers in the United States aren’t offered a package even remotely as generous.

Unless a company explicitly offers the benefit — or a person lives in California, Rhode Island or New Jersey — the United States doesn’t have paid parental leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act entitles full-time workers at companies with 50 or more employees to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, Bloomberg notes. But only half of workers in America are covered by the policy; freelancers, part-time employees, those at small businesses and others aren’t provided with even that limited allotment.

Full Story: Huffington Post »

Why Does Becoming a Mom Mean Potentially Losing Your Job?

Washington State’s Failure to Mandate Paid Parental Leave Hurts Gender Equity, Parents, and Kids

Photo: Frank de Kleine/Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Frank de Kleine/Flickr Creative Commons

My best friend from graduate school and I will both become first-time mothers this year. As a citizen of Ireland, my friend will be able to stay home with her baby for almost a year and then return to her present career path. As an American state employee, I can either stay home with my child or maintain my current career trajectory—and I’m one of the lucky ones because I get to actually make a choice.

Irish law includes a “maternity benefit” that pays 80 percent of wages to new mothers during the first 26 weeks after birth, and can begin two weeks before birth if needed. An additional 16 weeks of unpaid leave is optional. In the United States, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires that employers grant only 12 weeks of leave to new mothers, and payment of wages during this time is decided state by state. Only California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island offer paid leave; Washington State passed a law in 2007 requiring paid leave for new parents, but it hasn’t gone into effect because it lacks funding.

If I don’t want to leave my baby at three months of age to go back to work, I will give up my job in—ironically—global health and look for work again once my child goes to school. And to my knowledge, none of the places where I currently freelance, including The Stranger, offer paid maternity leave or anything beyond the federally mandated 12 weeks of unpaid time off. In a part of the country where global-health work is incredibly competitive and underfunded, I’ll most likely be scraping the bottom of the barrel to get back into the workforce. But my Irish friend will be able to jump back into her field with the seniority and security she’s built up over the last 10 years since we graduated and parted ways.

Numerous studies prove that women who receive paid maternity leave are more likely to return to their jobs, thereby remaining contributing, upwardly mobile members of the workforce, so why is the United States the sole industrialized country in the world that doesn’t mandate some amount of paid leave?

Full Story: The Stranger »

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Paid Family Leave

Did you miss this? Take a few minutes to revel in last’s night’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”, in which J.O. gloriously skewers U.S. paid leave policies, mocks anti-family leave legislators and creates an unbelievably wonderful, side-splitting, tear-inducing piece.

Click to watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (opens in new window)

Click to watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (opens in new window)

Terri’s story, or, why cancer really doesn’t care how responsible you are

terry cavillo 3

Terry Cavillo did everything right to protect herself financially. Her cancer didn’t care.

Terri did everything right. She and her husband raised three great children – now mostly grown. She was a loyal employee for 14 years and prepared for the future, buying into the short term disability plan her company offered and investing in a 401(k). She even decided it was time to get healthy and lost 30 lbs.

When her cancer diagnosis came, she had family support, a financial cushion, and the legal protection of the FMLA. But none of that proved quite enough to last through two years of treatment and three surgeries. Despite her years of hard work and responsible actions, one bout of seriously bad luck has left Terri worried about her family’s future.

In September 2013, after speaking with some co-workers, Terri became suspicious of symptoms she’d been having. She visited the doctor and after two biopsies learned she had cancer in both breasts. In October, Terri had a lumpectomy and eventually a double mastectomy. In total, Terri has needed to take 3 separate medical leaves from work to deal with her cancer

“It was the worst experience of my life” said Terri.

Terri has worked for a major retailer in Tacoma for 14 years. She felt lucky to have her job protected through the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act which covers employees in companies with 50 or more employees, who have worked with the same employer at least a year and for enough hours. She had also purchased short term disability insurance. This meant she would have some income to keep her family afloat while she recovered from surgery and have a job to go back to after the ordeal.

But disability insurance did not fully cover her wages—and it left her particularly short when she had to go back for a 2nd surgery. Coordinating all the paperwork with her medical team, HR department, and the separate disability plan provider also proved complicated. It never seemed like they were on her side.

“It was such a hassle that I didn’t need. I kept getting certified letters from the HR department saying they had not received the doctor’s letters… I’m the face of their company, I don’t call in sick unless I have a legitimate reason. I should be rewarded for being a decent employee.”

To add more stress, her health insurance did not fully cover medical expenses and bills began to pile up. With limited options, Terri decided to tap into her 401K. Despite spending most of her retirement savings, she still has unpaid medical bills that keep her and her family underwater. Even her strong family started feeling shaky. “Money problems are hard on a marriage” Terri says.

If Washington had enacted and funded family and medical leave insurance (HB 1273),Terri would have had stable income throughout her cancer treatments – without nearly exhausting her retirement account. Her husband could have taken leave to help care for her. She would have had less stress, meaning faster healing, better morale when she returned to work, and less strain on her family.

Terri’s story could be anyone’s experience. That’s why we all need family and medical leave insurance.

Equal Pay, Paid Sick/Safe Leave, FAMLI Act Legislative Update: April 1, 2015

Late yesterday, Senator Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, cancelled today’s meeting of the Washington Senate Commerce and Labor Committee which he chairs. Since today, April 1, is “cut-off”, that means that the equal pay, paid sick days, and minimum wage bills heard in committee on Monday are essentially dead for this year.

But all of this year’s bills can be reconsidered again, starting next January. The Washington Work and Family Coalition will be working hard in the meantime to be sure that all of our priorities are priorities for our legislators in 2016.

And you can help send them the message.

Women deserve equal pay whether they live in Spokane or Seattle, Yakima or Grays Harbor, Bellingham or Vancouver. Yet we heard in testimony Monday that employers across the state impose wage secrecy policies, so no one knows if some co-workers are getting paid more than others for the same work. And managers in high tech companies, grocery stores, and hospitals use their discretion – and assumptions about gender roles – to more often recommend men for promotion and assign them to higher paying departments. That is why we need to pass the Equal Pay Opportunity Act.

We also know that everyone gets sick, but 1 million workers in Washington get no paid sick leave, and even more are discouraged from using the sick leave they’ve earned. Every day in every school district in our state, sick kids are waiting miserably at school because no adult in the family can leave work to pick them up. Children as young as 9 or 10 are missing school to stay home with their sick younger siblings because their mom can’t risk missing another day of work.

The Washington State Board of Health, in a comprehensive health impact review of House Bill 1356, establishing Paid Sick and Safe Leave, concluded: “Evidence indicates that HB 1356 has potential to improve financial security; decrease the transmission of communicable disease; improve health outcomes; and to decrease health disparities by income, educational attainment, race/ethnicity, and geography.”

Meanwhile, with over 20 U.S. jurisdictions now requiring paid sick leave, including Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland, we know that businesses thrive with healthier and more productive workers and more financially stable customers.

And we haven’t forgotten Family and Medical Leave Insurance, which “died” in the legislature a few weeks ago. No one should have to forego needed surgery or drag themselves back to work before they’ve fully healed because they don’t have enough paid leave. Our elders should have family surrounding them through serious illnesses and during their final weeks of life, whether they’re part of the 1% or the 99%.

Every baby born or adopted in our state deserves several months of uninterrupted, unstressed time with their parents while their little brains and bodies are developing most quickly. We know from states with universal paid family and medical leave programs already in place that babies and moms are healthier, both moms and dads take longer leaves from work, fewer families are forced to rely on public assistance, and more moms are employed and for higher pay a year following childbirth.

Equal pay, paid sick days, and paid family and medical leave are all simple concepts that the vast majority of voters support – whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent, whether they live in a big city or not. The Washington Work and Family Coalition will continue fighting for these policies.

Let your elected officials know that you will, too.

Happy 21st Birthday FMLA!

3808089294_8f01d519e6_oCongress improved working conditions for millions of women and families across the
nation when they passed the landmark Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) twenty-one years ago. However, today millions of workers are still without access to paid leave and many are forced to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a sick family member or themselves. In order to better meet the needs of today’s workers and businesses, Congress must act to expand FMLA.

By ensuring people would have job-protected leave for medical and care giving purposes, FMLA helped millions of workers meet the dual demands of job and family by caring for a new baby, an ailing family member, or their own health.

But while FMLA was a big step, the legislation still falls short of ensuring all working families have access to family and medical leave. FMLA does not cover companies with fewer than 50 employees – and it only guarantees unpaid leave, which millions of people cannot afford to take. The law does not provide for part-time workers, nor does it cover non-serious or habitual medical illnesses such as the flu. As a result, 40% of the workforce has no access to FMLA, or finds it very difficult to use the benefits provided by the law.

Following the doctor’s orders to stay home when sick shouldn’t mean losing needed family income or risking your job. The FMLA is a major success for working women and their families but more needs to be done to ensure our leave policies address the needs of a modern workforce.

The Washington Work and Family Coalition believes paid leave is a basic workplace right and we’re leading the fight for state-wide legislation to ensure all Washington workers have access to paid sick days and family and medical leave insurance.

It’s time to empower working families across our state to keep themselves and their kids healthy without risking their family economics. Join us at our upcoming Community Forums in Spokane, Vancouver and Bellingham to advance FAMLI (Family and Medical Leave Insurance) legislation and make paid leave a reality for all Washington families!

By Sarah Van Houten, MPAc Graduate Intern