DOVER, N.H.—Mackenzie Nicholson is a young mother with a five-week-old girl and a three-year-old boy – and her own mother, aged 52, developed a brain tumor last year.
It’s workers – and couples – like Nicholson and her husband who faced choices between job and family that prompted Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to reintroduce their legislation for paid family and medical leave nationwide.
That’s because Nicholson said, in a Feb. 7 conference call, that “I had to use all of my vacation (time) to care for my Mom” and couldn’t take time off to care for her newborn.
“I have no vacation, nor does my husband. My only option now is to take my daughter to work,” she said. “I don’t know what we will do if the baby gets sick – or if Mom gets sick again.”
The legislation, the Family Act would let her take time, by giving her 12 weeks of paid leave to care for her baby, her mother, her husband or herself, with the assurance that her job would be waiting for her when she returned, DeLauro and Gillibrand said. A small per-employee payroll tax, equivalent to the cost of a cup of coffee per week, would pay for it.
There are millions of families in the same boat nationwide, said DeLauro, author of the current Family and Medical Leave Act, which orders unpaid leave for workers in firms with 50 or more people. The paid leave act would cover all companies, including small firms.
“Too many workers are not paid enough to make ends meet,” DeLauro commented. When families like the Nicholsons have to deal with major medical problems while not getting paid leave, many “go over the edge” financially, she added.
Only 40 percent of workers nationwide have some sort of paid family and medical leave, said DeLauro, a longtime crusader for women, workers and families. Another 14 percent of all workers who are eligible for the FMLA can’t take unpaid leave because they can’t afford it.
“Too many families are stuck,” Gillibrand added. “They have to quit their jobs or leave their (sick) family members” without comfort and care.
In past years, business opposition and Republican hostility stopped the paid leave bill from even getting a congressional hearing, much less a vote. And while the measure’s 113 House cosponsors now are all Democrats, DeLauro thinks that might change. That’s because new GOP President Donald Trump backed paid leave on the campaign trail.
The two lawmakers also recruited small business owners to speak up for paid leave, thus countering the anti-leave stand of the right wing National Federation of Independent Business, a lobby that claims to speak for small business. The lawmakers also pointed out that states and cities that enacted paid family leave laws have seen no negative impact.
“We’ve offered it since we founded Uncommon Goods in 1999” in Brooklyn, said owner David Belotsky, whose firm retails hand-crafted goods from overseas and U.S. artisans. It now has 180 workers, and paid family and medical leave “helps us attract and retain talent.” He plans to launch a campaign among his vendors and customers to support paid family leave.
Debra Ness, executive director of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said polls show 80 percent of respondents “want Congress and the president to move” paid leave. “It doesn’t help to have a law that doesn’t make (paid) family and medical leave affordable, so that people can use it to take care of moms and dads and infants and themselves long enough for them to recover,” Ness added.