In Focus: Sick Days and Family Medical Leave

Feb 7, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

FAMILY Act rides wave of momentum into Congress

By Liz Ben-Ishai

The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act rides into Congress on an impressive wave of federal, state, local, and corporate momentum. The bill, which would create a national social insurance program enabling workers to take up to 12 weeks of partially paid leave to welcome a new child, care for a seriously ill family member, or recover from their own illnesses, was reintroduced today in the wake of the following developments:

  • Growing bipartisan interest in paid leave. For the first time, presidential candidates from both major parties included paid family leave in their policy platforms, indicating a growing awareness among politicians of the importance of this issue to voters. Indeed, in a poll immediately preceding the election, 82 percent of voters (including a majority of Republican voters) said it was important for the next president and Congress to consider laws that would create a paid family and medical leave insurance program and enable people to earn paid sick days. Moreover, more than three-quarters of voters support a national paid family and medical leave law, including two-thirds (66 percent) of Republicans.
  • FMLA celebrates 24 years of job protected leave—and 24 years of waiting to do better. The reintroduction of the FAMILY Act coincides with the 24th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the federal law that guarantees about 60 percent of workers access to job-protected but unpaid leave. The FMLA has helped millions of workers know their jobs are safe while they take leave. However, most workers can’t afford to go entirely without their pay. Just 38 percent of working adults are both eligible for and can afford to take unpaid leave under FMLA. Just 14 percent of civilian U.S. workers have access to paid family leave, and less than 40 percent have paid medical leave through disability programs provided by their employers.
  • A growing number of states have established paid family leave programs. In 2016, New York and the District of Columbia passed laws to establish paid family programs, joining existing state programs in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. The FAMILY Act would build on the knowledge and experience gained through these programs, which are similarly structured as insurance systems.
  • More and more major corporations are announcing new and expanded paid leave programs. A growing number of large corporations are announcing increasingly generous paid leave programs for their own employees. Indeed, even smaller companies are stepping up to create their own programs. Some companies are taking the lead to make paid leave a priority in their industries, such as in the creative and tech industries. And, signaling their understanding of changing demographics and the importance of inclusive policies, businesses are increasingly offering paid leave for mothers or even for both parents, along with allowing its use for other critical caregiving obligations. For example, in 2016, at least 10 major companies, including Exelon, Nike, Cargill, and Deloitte, announced paid leave programs that cover care for seriously ill family members in addition to parental leave. In addition, more and more companies, including Hilton and Ikea, are extending paid leave policies to cover hourly workers, in addition to salaried employees. 
  • Local governments are increasingly offering paid leave to their public employees. More than 40 municipalities and counties have established paid leave programs, acknowledging the importance of this policy for attracting and retaining top talent.
  • Americans’ desire for economic security and quality jobs is greater than ever. Many commentators attribute the recent election outcome to Americans’ continuing sense of economic instability and insecurity. Although the recovery has helped many get back to work and regain their footing, even those who are working are often struggling to get by in low-quality jobs. Having access to the critical workers supports, such as paid leave, is a crucial step towards helping more Americans achieve economic security. No one should fall into poverty or experience serious hardship because they need to take time away from work to care for others or themselves. Yet far too often, this is what happens when workers become seriously ill or their family members require care.

Congress and the American people are divided on many issues—there’s no denying it. But a vast majority agrees with the wisdom of supporting working families to care for themselves and for one another. Americans value work—and paid family and medical leave helps people get back to work when they are ready to be productive and make important contributions to their employers and our economy. It’s time for Congress to pass the FAMILY Act – the universal, inclusive, and economical solution to our nation’s paid leave problem. Let’s not celebrate another FMLA anniversary without having a paid leave program in place.

Jan 12, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

CKE Workers Oppose their Boss’s Nomination as Secretary of Labor

By Zoe Ziliak Michel

Stolen wages. Sexual harassment. Unpaid overtime. Meal breaks denied. Workers at CKE Restaurants say they’ve endured these and other violations under CEO Andrew Puzder, the current nominee for secretary of labor. Two recent events on Capitol Hill made strong cases for why Puzder is the wrong choice to lead the department that protects workers’ rights.

At a briefing with Democrats from the Congressional Progressive Caucus and House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) shared findings from an investigation into labor practices at Puzder’s company. ROC surveyed over 500 CKE employees, including workers at fast-food chains such as Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. More than one in four respondents said they’ve been forced to work off the clock without pay. And because most CKE employees do not receive paid sick days, nearly four out of five respondents reported preparing or serving food while sick. At the event, Roberto Ramirez, an employee of Carl’s Jr. for 18 years, attested to working off the clock for the first 30 minutes of every shift, as well as having to clock out for meal breaks but work straight through them. Speaking through an interpreter, Ramirez said: “If Andrew Puzder is chosen [as Secretary of Labor], what happened to me will be multiplied to workers nationwide. We need to be valued at our workplace. We can’t let people like [Puzder] step all over us.”

The same afternoon, 17 Senators led by Elizabeth Warren and Patty Murray raised concerns at a public forum. Laura McDonald, a CKE employee for more than 20 years, testified there that she and other CKE general managers often worked for free to avoid being disciplined or fired for going over their allotted labor budget. The company also kept many workers involuntarily part time. “In order to avoid paying health care,” McDonald attested, “CKE puts a strict limit on the number of full-time workers we hire.” Moreover, full-time positions still don’t pay enough for workers to escape poverty. Lupe Guzman, a single mother who has been with the company for seven years, works full time during the graveyard shift for $8.75 per hour. She relies on Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), and housing assistance just to avoid homelessness.

Workers deserve a secretary of labor who they know is on their side. That’s why it’s so concerning that Andrew Puzder rejects laws and regulations that the Department of Labor (DOL) is tasked with enforcing. He has opposed raising the minimum wage. He has opposed raising income for millions of workers by making them eligible for overtime pay. He has opposed the Affordable Care Act, particularly its requirement that employers offer full-time employees health care. Puzder has even spoken out against Medicaid, SNAP, and housing assistance, which essentially subsidize his low-wage company.

DOL’s mission is to “foster, promote, and develop the welfare of wage earners…improve working conditions…and assure work-related benefits and rights.” With Puzder at the helm, the department is unlikely to fulfill this promise. CKE has a record of running roughshod over its employees, and Andrew Puzder has a troubling history of opposing critical labor standards. We feel strongly that the Senate should deny his confirmation.

Dec 20, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

DC Passes Nation’s Most Progressive Paid Family and Medical Leave Law

By Zoe Ziliak Michel

“Sometimes life doesn’t go as you planned!” writes Lindsay, a Washington, DC resident who has been diagnosed with two autoimmune disorders and will someday need a liver transplant. “Every single day, I worry that I will financially ruin my family because of my health problems.” But with the passage of a new paid family and medical leave law in DC today, some of Lindsay’s fears can be relieved.

Thanks to the long-time support of Chairman Phil Mendelson and others, the Washington, DC council voted today to begin building the nation’s most progressive paid family and medical leave (PFML) insurance program. The DC Paid Family Leave Coalition hopes Mayor Muriel Bowser will take quick action to sign the bill. Under the new program, estimated to take effect in 2019, private-sector workers will be able to get paid while taking time to bond with a new child, care for an ill or injured loved one, or recover from a serious medical condition. The District of Columbia joins the states of California, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York in granting their workers this protection. While DC’s program adopts many of the features that have made the other states’ programs successful, it increases support for low-income families by providing a higher rate of wage replacement.

The wage replacement system to be implemented in DC will be the most responsive of any in the country to the needs of low-income workers. Those who earn less than about $47,000 per year will receive 90 percent of their regular pay while on leave. Those who earn more will receive wage replacement on a sliding scale, with the replacement capped at $1,000 per week. For example, someone who works full-time at $15 per hour, normally earning $600 per week, would receive $540 per week while on paid leave. This formula reflects growing understanding that low-income people will still forego paid leave if the wage replacement is too low to live on; such findings recently led California lawmakers to pass a law increasing the level of wage replacement from 55 percent to 70 percent for the state’s lower-income workers.  DC’s 90 percent wage replacement will be a lifesaver for low-income workers who might otherwise be unable to afford to take the paid leave guaranteed under the new law.

DC’s program, to be funded through an employer payroll tax of 0.62 percent, will be the nation’s first made-from-scratch medical leave program since 1969. The four states with family leave insurance all built their programs’ infrastructure onto decades-old state temporary disability insurance (TDI) programs (i.e., programs that provide paid medical leave but no family leave). Unlike DC, those states were able to use administrative agencies and processes already in place, expanding them to cover paid family leave. DC’s process in developing its own system can inform other states without TDI programs, such as Connecticut and Massachusetts, where policymakers are currently considering paid family leave legislation.

Thanks to the leadership of Jews United for Justice, the DC Paid Family Leave Coalition, and countless workers and volunteers who stepped up to support the campaign, DC is leading on leave. The new paid family and medical leave program will help thousands of workers care for themselves and their family without sacrificing their income. The program will be a great source of support for low-income workers in our nation’s capital and will give some hope to patients like Lindsay. She says, “With [PFML], I hope that both I and my family can make it through the next few years intact.”

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