Senator Kirsten Gillibrand says the nation’s workplace policies are out of date and don’t reflect increasing women’s employment – and their roles as family caregivers. Gillibrand was in Watertown yesterday to make the case for paid family and medical leave.
Students and reporters jostled in a student lounge as Jefferson Community College president Carole McCoy introduced the senator. Gillibrand told the crowd of several dozen that her legislation would provide financial security to people dealing with the birth of a child, or sick or dying family members.
“It’s they who take the time off for the infant, or it’s they who take the time off for the ailing parent,” Gillibrand said. “What it means is that she’s losing out on that income, she’s losing out on the ability to get promoted, she’s losing out on her ability to stay on track with the experience she’s gained with that employer.”
Gillibrand argues paid leave would do more than provide paychecks during family health crises. She says it would keep lower-wage employees working, and off public assistance.
That’s because many low-wage workers faced with an emergency often quit their jobs, so they can qualify for programs like Medicaid and food stamps. She pointed to one of her own staff members – a former single mom and waitress who faced a tough choice as she prepared for the birth of a child.
“She knew she’d have to be eligible for Medicaid and for WIC, to just feed herself and her infant,” Gillibrand said. “And so she had to go on social services in order to handle that few weeks after giving birth – and then have to go and try to get a job afterwards.”
Donna Seymour, of the American Association of University Women, praised Gillibrand’s ideas, speaking from personal experience.
“The fear of losing your job or your income at least comes off the table when you’re sitting up all night with a two-year-old who’s been throwing up five times since midnight, as my daughter did a week ago, or if you’re trying to figure out how to write a paycheck for an employee who can’t come into work because of complications from surgery,” she said.
Gillibrand says her program would be funded through payroll deductions, matched by employer contributions, at the cost for most workers of about $2 each week.
Business owners might argue the program would encourage workers to take more time off, hurting productivity. Gillibrand responded by arguing that businesses could retain more of their workers through personal tough times – and thus avoid the time and expense of training replacements.
The legislation would provide up to two-thirds of a worker’s salary for 12 weeks, with a cap at $4,000 per month. Current federal law protects workers at larger companies from losing their jobs during family and medical emergencies, but that leave is unpaid.