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