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

Paid Parental Leave: The Status of Women 50 Years Later

logoFifty years ago the President’s Commission on the Status of Women recommended that paid maternity leave be provided to improve conditions for working women. While the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was an important step in improving access to leave for new parents, the United States is still without a federal maternity or family leave statute. This month, the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor released a full paper series commemorating the 50th Anniversary of American Women: Report of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. As part of this series, the Institute of Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) prepared a paper that reviews data on the benefits of paid parental leave from the perspectives of individuals, families, employers, and the economy overall.

The report found that paid family and medical leave programs can have significant benefits to individuals, to businesses, and communities.

Economic Benefits

  • Improved Labor Force Attachment:
    • Women who are offered paid leave are more likely to return to the labor force in the year after they give birth than women who are not offered paid leave. Additionally, paid leave has been shown to have a positive effect on post-birth work outcomes.
  • Costs and Benefits to Firms:
    • Paid leave leads to negligible costs to employers in terms of temporary employee replacement costs or overtime paid to existing employees and has much greater potential gains in terms of employee morale and productivity.
  • Expands Economic Growth:
    • Paid leave can lead to increased labor force participation, increased fertility rates, and reduced spending on public assistance. Family friendly policies can help push the economy towards gender equality in the labor force, therefore mitigating the effects of a shrinking, aging workforce and increasing GDP.

Health Benefits

  • Increases initiation and length of breastfeeding:
    • Breastfeeding can increase bonding between the child and nursing mother, stimulate positive neurological and psycho-social development, and strengthen a child’s immune system. Breastfeeding has also been shown to reduce the risk of health problems and disease.
  • Reduction in the risk for infant mortality
  • Increases well-baby care and vaccination rates
  • Improves mother’s emotional well-being and mental health
  • Maternity leave allows mothers to increase the quality of care given to her child and can help prevent postpartum depression and stress

Family benefits

  • Greater paternal engagement in caregiving:
    • Fathers who take time from work around childbirth are more likely to spend more time with their newborns, which could reduce stress on the family and contribute to father-infant bonding.

FMLA, which provides men and women with job-protected leave for a number of caregiving purposes, has provided many American workers with unpaid leave for moments when family had to come first. But the law falls short of what families really need: universal coverage and income.

To qualify for FMLA you must work for a company with at least 50 employees and have worked 1,250 hours in the past year. That means part-time workers and small business employees aren’t protected. And most working families can’t afford to take two months off of work without income forcing many to choose between caring for their family or providing for them.

According to the report, the U.S. is “the only high-income country, and one of only eight in the world, that does not mandate paid leave for mothers of newborns”. Moving forward, IWPR urges the U.S. to catch up to other developed nations and address today’s workforce realities for both mothers and fathers through more comprehensive legislation. A paid family leave and medical insurance law would help build a more productive workforce, promote economic competitiveness, and bring substantial health benefits to individuals, employers, and society.

Pelosi: Extend California’s paid family leave to the nation

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaking at a Washington Work and Family Coalition event in November 2013 on women’s economic security.

By House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi

By helping 1.6 million Californians balance family and work, our state has demonstrated the success of paid family leave – and now it is time for the rest of America to join us.

Paid leave made a tremendous difference to Mary Ignatius when her second son was born with clubfeet. The doctors had explained to her the condition could be corrected, but cautioned that treatment would have to start immediately.

Caring for a newborn and Ignatius’ 4-year-old would have been a handful all on its own, but now there were weeks and weeks of doctors, casts, procedures and leg braces ahead for her baby boy.

Thankfully, Ignatius had access to paid family leave, so she could see her son through his treatments without giving up the paychecks she needed.

Most Americans are not so fortunate. Whether looking after a newborn, or tending to a recuperating family member or nursing a declining parent, too many Americans face an impossible choice between a paycheck they can’t afford to miss and bonding with a new baby or being there in a loved one’s hour of need.

Across the country, only 12 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave through their employers to care for a new child or seriously ill family member. The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave for new mothers.

For us to grow as an economy and a society, this must change.

Here, as in so many things, California is leading the way for the nation. For 10 years, our paid family leave program has enabled Californians such as Ignatius to take up to six weeks of paid leave to bond with their newborns and newly adopted children, or care for a seriously ill spouse, parent, child or partner. Starting in July, our state will cover care for siblings, grandparents and parents-in-law, too.

The program works by building on the state disability insurance program Californians have paid into for decades, creating minimal added cost to employees. In fact, the silent success of this program has meant that many California workers have no idea they are eligible for paid family leave.

Those who do take paid leave, however, find it invaluable – affording them the breathing room to tend to the health and strength of their families, while maintaining their commitments in the workplace. Businesses and families both benefit.

Expanding paid family leave to all Americans is a central pillar of House Democrats‘ economic agenda for women and families, “When women succeed, America succeeds.”

For our economy to grow, we need to unleash the full potential of women – and strengthen the middle-class families that are the backbone of our democracy.

Paid leave is a keystone of an agenda built to empower all of America’s women, along with raising the minimum wage, insisting on equal pay for equal work and providing affordable, quality child care.

With these measures, we can enable women and men to secure the balance between work and family they need to thrive.

Congress must pass the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which would offer workers 12 weeks of leave at two-thirds of their salary to ensure that working men and women in every state of the union can have access to paid family leave. It proposes increasing the payroll tax contribution by 0.2 percent for employers with a match by employees.

California has once again taken the lead for our nation. Now Congress must act.

Originally published in the San Francisco Gate

The Importance of Paid Family and Medical Leave: Shelby’s Story

One woman’s story about losing her wages and nearly losing her home when she had to take a short leave to care for her daughter and her dad.

Shelby Ramirez – a mother of two, caregiver, full-time worker and student in Denver, Colorado – talks about the sacrifices she’s had to make without paid leave.

Like Shelby,paid family leave is not an option for millions of parents. Family and Medical Leave Insurance would change that for everyone. We’re working to make paid family leave a reality for every Washington family in 2015. Join our fight and stay engaged by signing up for email alerts and following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Read more about Shelby’s story and the national movement to secure paid family leave for all here.

Equal Pay for Women Requires Paid Time to Care

Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work Consortium

Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work Consortium

As we pause to commemorate Equal Pay Day – the day well into the year when the earnings of women working full time catch up with men’s earnings from the previous year – many people are asking why women earn so much less than men. The answer? Because women’s employers pay them so much less – including little or no time to do the caregiving for which women still have primary responsibility. That lack in compensation costs women hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime.

Here’s the rub – in our nation that is supposed to value families and personal responsibility, being a good parent or following doctor’s orders affects your ability to stay employed, to advance, to build assets or even to pay your bills. Lose a job for staying home with a sick child and it may be harder to get the next one. Take a little time to care for your dying father and you may find yourself in bankruptcy court – and that can affect your credit rating and your ability to get hired at the next job. Take a few years to raise young children and your next starting pay – and all the lifetime of raises based on that pay – may take a hit from which you’ll never recover.

Conservatives argue that women would get equal pay with men if they didn’t take breaks. Having a baby may be a joy – but it’s not a break. Studies show that women who experience an interruption in employment do experience a decrease in wages – a reflection of the notion that they’ve taken a “break” and lowered their value by “not working.”

Many new moms who wind up out of a job would be delighted to go back to the one they had — but their employer prevents it. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits firing someone for being pregnant, but it does not require holding their job open until that person heals from childbirth. The Family and Medical Leave Act does include that job protection, but it leaves out 40 percent of the workforce. At the time when they need a steady income the most, too many moms risk losing their jobs when they have a child.

fvaw caregiverNow for the good news: there are tested policy solutions to correct these problems. The drop in income is less likely to happen when women have access to paid family leave. Researchers Houser and Vartanian found evidence that paid family leave boosts the chance that women will return to the workforce and receive pay increases once they do.

An analysis of the impact of California’s paid leave program on leave-taking and post-birth employment found that paid family leave increases a woman’s attachment to the firm that she works in, as well as increasing the number of hours that she works after returning to the job.

In short, common sense policies like a family leave insurance fund not only strengthen families and lower turnover, they would also help lessen the gender wage gap. Sen. Kirsten Gillebrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro have introduced a federal bill, the FAMILY Act, to create such a fund. And President Obama has included money in the budget for a State Paid Leave Fund, grants to states to help them start similar programs on the state level.

Other public policies would help as well. Guaranteeing that workers can earn paid sick time would help stop income and job loss that impacts women’s earnings. So would proposed credits for caregiving in determining social security income.

These aren’t the only solutions. We need to restore the lost value of the minimum wage (where women are the majority of workers) and remove the barriers from workers choosing to belong to a union. We need parity for part-timers, who are also disproportionately female – no law currently requires that they get the same base rate, even when doing the same job for the same company. And we need an end to salary secrecy, as President Obama is ordering today for federal contractors.

But we’ll never solve the problem of women’s lower – and often really low – pay until we also ensure that women and men have access to affordable time for caregiving.