Sick Days and Family Medical Leave

The nation has entered an exciting new era that will allow millions of lower-wage workers to access health care insurance. Tragically, many of these workers will be unable to take advantage of this historic new benefit because they cannot take time off of work to get the care they need due to lack of earned  sick days.  With no job protections or paid sick leave, these workers face impossible choices between taking time to access healthcare for themselves or their loved ones and potentially losing wages or even their jobs.

At the same time, the nation is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), an historic act that allowed many workers time to care for themselves or their loved ones. However, many workers are unable to take advantage of this policy, which guarantees only unpaid leave, because they cannot afford to take to with family without pay. Many more remain ineligible for even unpaid leave, because their employer is exempt from the policy or they have insufficient tenure in their job.

As part of its work life and job quality work, CLASP advocates for state and federal earned sick days and paid family and medical leave insurance policies that will prevent more workers from being denied the time to tend to their own or a family member's health, or care for a new child. Across the country, campaigns to secure these workplace protections for all workers are gaining momentum.

Aug 9, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Public Policies Fail to Protect Growing US Latino Workforce

This is a special guest post by Crisanta Duran, majority leader in Colorado's House of Representatives.

By Rep. Crisanta Duran

Latinos are essential to making the American – and Coloradan – economy work. In fact, Latino workers are a vital part of the workforce with a notably high participation rate. Yet, as a new brief from the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) highlights, instead of propelling them into the middle class, Latino workers’ jobs are too often holding them back. These jobs not only pay low wages, but also leave workers without access to paid sick time, paid family and medical leave, fair schedules, and employer-sponsored healthcare benefits. As Colorado House Majority Leader, I found critical evidence in this CLASP brief to support what my constituents and workers throughout the state tell me every day:  for Latinos, for the state, and for the nation, it is critical that we advance public policies to improve job quality.

While national policies to improve the lives of all workers would be ideal, progress at the federal level is lagging, to put it mildly. Last week, on August 5, advocates, workers, and families celebrated the 23rd anniversary of the implementation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which gives some workers access to unpaid, job protected leave. In 2001, reflecting on the first bill he signed into law, President Clinton acknowledged, “Our work is not done[…] we must build on the success of FMLA by giving more workers the protections of the act and finding new ways to provide paid leave to those workers who need to take off but cannot afford to do so.” 

Fifteen years after Bill Clinton issued this call for paid leave, the nation is still waiting for federal action – but a lot has changed in the intervening years. Since the FMLA went into effect, the composition of the US labor force has shifted: in 1990, shortly before its passage, there were about 10 million Latinos in the US workforce. In 2014, there were more than 26 million Latinos in the workforce. Over the course of a quarter century, Latino workers doubled their share of the total US workforce, from about 8 to 16 percent. Yet, too many of the growing number of jobs Latinos hold cause immense volatility in their families’ lives. CLASP’s brief shows that nearly 60 percent of Latinos lack access to even unpaid FMLA. And few Latinos have access to paid leave – likely the reason why an astounding 40 percent of new Latina moms take no leave at all after the birth of a child. Latinos can’t wait for action on paid leave any longer.

I am hopeful that a new Congress will enact desperately needed job quality laws for the benefit of all Americans, but in the meantime, my colleagues and I are working to advance such laws in our state legislature. I am a strong supporter of Colorado’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) Act, which would create a statewide family and medical leave insurance program to provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial wage replacement when they need to care for a family member (including a new baby) or recover from their own serious illness. This program will provide much-needed stability for Coloradans, so they don’t have to choose between caring for a sick family member or paying their bills.

Another recent anniversary highlights the lack of progress Congress has made on job quality in recent years. Last month marked seven years since the federal minimum wage was raised. Stagnating at $7.25, the minimum wage has failed to keep up with increases in workers’ productivity and the rising cost of living. And Latinos around the country are disproportionately impacted; CLASP’s brief shows that while 39 percent of all full-time workers in the U.S. earn less than $15 per hour, an astounding 58 percent of full-time Latino workers have wages below this threshold.

In Colorado, more than half of Latinos are employed in low-wage occupational groups. While Colorado’s minimum wage is higher than the federal wage at $8.31 per hour, it’s still a far cry from a living wage. That’s why I support a ballot initiative to raise the state minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020; it would be a step in the right direction for all Coloradans, and given current disparities in our state, it would help to lift up many hard-working Latino families.

As CLASP points out, Latino workers don’t just trail behind their White counterparts in wages and family leave; they also struggle with other aspects of job quality that make it hard to pay the bills and care for families. For example, nationwide, nearly half (45 percent) of Latino workers ages 26 to 32 receive their work schedules one week or less in advance, making it difficult to arrange child care, go to school, or hold a second job. Workers in Colorado, including Latinos, struggle with schedules, too; 16 percent of Coloradans who work part-time are doing so involuntarily – that is, they want to work more hours, but can’t get them. In addition, fewer than half of Latino workers in the US have access to even a single paid sick day.

Job quality matters not only for economic vitality in our communities, but also for civic participation. As a board member of the NALEO Educational Fund, I’m committed to supporting policies that will improve political engagement in Latino communities. Economic security is essential to civic engagement – working families need good jobs in order to be able to fully participate in their communities and our political system. It’s just one more reason why it’s time for policymakers at the local, state, and federal level to prioritize policies that improve the quality of jobs. 

Read the brief here>>

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