New Coalition Calls on Legislature to Pass Paid Family Leave Act

February 18, 2015
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Only 13 percent of Americans have access to paid family leave, forcing most workers to choose between caring for loved one, bringing home paycheck. Paid Family Leave Act would guarantee access to leave for all Minnesota employees.

St. Paul, Minn – Today, Minnesotans for Paid Family Leave, a new statewide coalition of working families, faith communities, labor, and nonprofit organizations, kicked off a campaign to push for paid family leave for working Minnesotans. Several Minnesotans affected by leave policies related their families’ experiences. They are among the thousands of Minnesotans who would be helped by the Paid Family Leave Act recently introduced by State Representative Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) and State Senator Katie Sieben (DFL-Cottage Grove). The Paid Family Leave Act (SF779/HF580) creates an insurance program to provide all Minnesota employees with a percentage of their wages for up to 6 weeks while they are bonding with a new child, caring for an elder or seriously-ill family member, or dealing with pregnancy-related health concerns.

“Families have the same responsibilities to each other now that they have always had. We care for new babies. We care for sick children. And we care for elders in their senior years,” said Doran Schrantz, executive director of ISAIAH, a member of the coalition. “However, the way families live and work has changed. More families are led by a single parent, many two-earner families rely on both incomes to make ends meet, most parents work, most children don’t have a full-time stay at home caregiver, and more families are providing elder care to aging Baby Boomers. Our workplace policies haven’t kept pace with our changing way of life, and that means many workers are forced to choose between caring for loved ones and bringing home a paycheck to meet basic needs. Nobody benefits when workers have to make that choice.”

“It’s time to make our workplace policies reflect how people actually live and work today,” said state Representative Ryan Winkler. “That is why Americans overwhelmingly support this agenda.”
94 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of Independents, and 65 percent of Republicans surveyed by the Make It Work campaign agreed that workplace rules to ensure policies like paid time off to care for family members are “good for our nation.”

 “I am proud to author this legislation to build on last year’s success passing the Women’s Economic Security Act. This proposal takes the obvious next step by providing families access to paid leave to care for an ill family member or a newborn child,” added state Senator Katie Sieben.

Peggy Flanagan, executive director of Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota highlighted the positive effect paid leave has on children and families: “When parents can afford to take the time they need to bond with a new baby or care for a seriously ill child, we strengthen families and we all benefit.” Parental leave is shown to improve health outcomes for new mothers, facilitate involvement of new fathers in their children’s lives, and improve child health and development.

Young children are not the only beneficiaries of paid leave, however. Heidi Kult has found herself in a caregiver role multiple times over the past twenty years, most recently for her 88-year old mother. She has been able to piece together paid time off due to the generosity of a co-worker donation pool, but as her family’s sole breadwinner, she has feared for her job and believes “it’s unfortunate that we have to rely on the charity of our co-workers to take care of our loved ones when they are seriously ill.”

The United States is the only advanced economy without a national paid family leave program and a mere 13 percent of workers have access to paid family leave. Only 60 percent of workers qualify for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act and those who do may be unable to take advantage of it because they can’t afford the loss of income.

"We have to move on from assuming all families fit a stereotype. Families may have a single parent, a grandparent caretaker, two moms, or two dads. Both moms and dads have jobs – and in low-income families, often more than one. We have to make workplaces work for all kinds of families," said Lisa Stratton, co-founder of Gender Justice.

Low-income workers are less likely to have access to either paid or unpaid leave. The Paid Family Leave Act would address this disparity while benefiting all workers, regardless of gender, parental status, age, ability, or income level. 

Research from other states with paid family leave programs has shown they benefit business by lowering turnover, boosting productivity, and enhancing morale. Paid leave programs can also help to make small businesses more competitive and appealing to a new generation of employees looking for basic benefits to support their families.

 “Together, we can ensure that all Minnesota families are free to care for their families without being forced to sacrifice their economic security,”concluded Schrantz.

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Minnesotans for Paid Family Leave members include AARP, Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, the Coalition for Women’s Economic Security, Gender Justice, the Gray Panthers, ISAIAH, Jewish Community Action, Minnesota AFL-CIO, MAPE, SEIU-Minnesota, Take Action-Minnesota, UFCW Local 1189, and the University of Minnesota – Center on Women and Public Policy.