Guest Column: Time to Enact Paid Family Leave
Twenty-five years ago, on Feb. 5, 1993, President Clinton signed into law the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows certain workers to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to deal with a serious health condition, have a baby, bond with a newborn or adopted child, or take care of a seriously ill relative.
The FMLA was a major stride forward for the rights of workers and their families, but after a quarter decade the program's major gaps are clear. However, FMLA does not cover about 40 percent of the workforce, including workers at smaller companies and those who have recently changed jobs. And many workers who are eligible FMLA can't afford to take unpaid time off from work in an emergency. They're often left to choose between taking care of a child they love or keeping the job that puts food on the table.
Today, 25 years after the FMLA was signed, a grassroots coalition of community organizations, faith groups, and labor unions is advancing a pair of policies that would help fix these problems and strengthen our commonwealth's economy. This fall, the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition collected over 274,000 signatures from registered voters across the commonwealth to place two questions on the November 2018 ballot: paid family and medical leave and an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022.
Over the next five months, the Legislature has the opportunity to pass these policies ourselves and avoid the need for an expensive ballot campaign. As co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, my colleagues and I will be fighting for strong paid leave that covers all workers, and that doesn't hurt any single group or leave vulnerable families behind.
The bills I co-sponsor, H.2172 and S.1048 would make employees eligible for job-protected paid leave to recover from a serious illness or injury, to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, or to care for a new child. The bills prohibit employer retaliation against workers who take time off under these conditions.
Employees taking paid leave would receive partial wage replacement equal to a percentage of their average weekly wages, with a maximum weekly benefit of either $650 or $1,000. Paid leave would last up to either 12 or 16 weeks to care for a seriously ill or injured family member or to bond with a new child (family leave), and up to 26 weeks for an employee's own serious illness or injury (medical leave).
But won't this cost employers too much money? No. Benefits would be funded through small employer premium contributions to the new Family and Employment Security Trust Fund or to private insurance plans. It would allow employers to require employees to contribute up to 50 percent of the cost of premiums. It would phase in over a few years, create a waiting period before employees can receive benefits, use existing agencies for administration and enforcement, and allow companies to keep existing plans, all of which reduce costs. Employers tell us they are looking for a straightforward plan with low administrative costs and offers a level playing field. This bill meets those needs.
When it comes to paid family and medical leave, the example of the FMLA shows how important it is that a paid leave program cover all workers. Family and medical emergencies can happen to people who work for small companies, those who just started new jobs, and independent contractors. This legislation program should make sure they are covered.
I am proud to work alongside my colleagues in the Legislature, advocates, and most importantly you, my constituents, to advance this important policy change that protects families and builds a stronger workforce.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier represents the 3rd Berkshire District.