by Julian Medrano
Another critical pillar in improving lives and creating a just economy is ensuring that working people have access to paid sick days and paid family leave. The passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was a powerful step forward and provided millions with the right to take time to nurture their newborns, care for their loved ones, and care for their own health without fear of losing their jobs. But it has been 25 years since it was passed and much has changed.
The FMLA was always meant to be the first of many steps and not the first and only step. The subsequent 25 years of policy paralysis have exposed the inadequacies of the current law. First, half of all workers would not be eligible for FMLA leave because either their employer is too small or because they have not worked the required number of hours before applying for leave. Second, even if a worker is eligible the law does not require that any of their 12-week job-protected leave be paid. In fact, only 13 percent of private sector workers have access to paid leave and only four percent of the workers with the lowest wages have access to paid leave.
Paid family and medical leave isn’t the only area where workers in low-wage industries are left to the whims of individual companies. While approximately 64 percent of all private sector workers have access to paid sick days, only 27 percent of private sector earners who are in the bottom 10 percent of wage earners have access.
This lack of paid leave and paid sick days is forcing the most vulnerable workers to make decisions that no one should have to make. They are forced to choose between staying at home with a sick child and earning a paycheck to feed that child. Sending a sick child to school or going into work sick themselves can endanger their own health or the health of their classmates or colleagues, and will affect the overall quality of their education or work. Additionally, workers are forced to choose between their careers and their responsibilities as parents or family members precisely when they are most vulnerable. After the birth of a child or during the illness of a family member is precisely when a paycheck is most needed.
IWJ affiliates across the country are enacting policy changes at the state and local level to expand protections for working people so they won’t have to choose between family and a paycheck. These common sense protections include:
- Increased access to protected leave for the most vulnerable workers
- Paid leave benefits for all employees, including part-time and self-employed workers
- Expanding the definition of ‘family’ to reflect the reality and diversity of the real world
- Providing paid sick days to improve health in the workplace, health in the home, and economic security while recovering from an illness
These are not novel approaches. Most nations around the world already secure these protections for their citizens. Countless studies have demonstrated the benefits of these protections not only for the family and for the community but also for businesses.
After 25 years it is time we take action and protect the sanctity of our families and our communities. There are currently two bills in Congress that would expand these common sense protections to every state in the union. The Healthy Families Act would set a national paid sick days standard and the FAMILY Act would create a comprehensive national program that meets the needs of new mothers and fathers and people with serious personal or family health issues. Call and write your Representatives and Senators TODAY and demand that they sign on to these bills.