OpEd with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand – Paid Family Leave
By United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Colorado State Representative Faith Winter
New York and Colorado are more than a thousand miles apart. Our states are very different places. But as working mothers, we know that all families, no matter where they are, have the same basic needs.
At the top of the list: Every worker in America, at some point, is going to have to deal with major life events that require time off from work to be with family. Unfortunately, almost all American workers don’t have that option, even when they desperately need it. Instead, when something happens in their family, they’re forced to make an awful choice between keeping their job and their paycheck, or caring for their loved ones without pay, right at the moment when they can least afford it.
We have to change this.
The good news for New Yorkers and Coloradans is that our two states are leaders in the fight for paid leave. New York recently passed its own statewide paid leave plan because ordinary people stood up, demanded change, and won a victory. Coloradans are demanding change, too, and now Colorado’s own paid leave program is on its way — as long as it can pass through the state legislature.
And everyone, in all states, should stand together and fight for a national paid leave plan called the FAMILY Act, which would provide paid leave to every worker in the country: two-thirds of your paycheck for up to twelve weeks. Under the FAMILY Act, for only the cost of a cup of coffee a week, everyone who works would have the peace of mind that they have access to paid leave when they need it, and they won’t have to worry about losing their income when a major life event happens.
We know there are plenty of skeptics in the business community when it comes to paid leave. But in our states, it’s actually the innovative businesses and smart companies that have been leading the charge to promote this policy. In New York, a number of big companies and small businesses started giving their employees paid leave over the last few years. And in Colorado, homegrown businesses like Goodbee and Associates, an engineering firm, and Apple Jack liquor know that this policy will be good for business and good for families.
More and more businesses around the country are realizing that paid leave is good for business.
They’re realizing that every time they have to hire and train a replacement worker, because one of their employees had no paid leave and had to quit, that’s expensive. They’re realizing that when an employee is stuck in the office while his wife is in the hospital, and he can’t be with her because he doesn’t have paid leave, that’s lower morale. It’s lower productivity. It’s lower efficiency.
In California, they’ve had a statewide paid leave program for more than a decade. And when business owners there took a survey on it, about 90 percent of them said that paid leave had a positive or, at worst, no negative effect, on their profits, their productivity, or their retention. And 99 percent of California’s business owners said it boosted employee morale.
If paid leave programs pass around the country, it would be a boost for businesses and workers everywhere. Because when workers have access to paid leave, it means they’re not losing out on wages and retirement benefits. Over a lifetime, those extra wages and benefits really add up: an additional $284,000 dollars for men, and even more — $324,000 dollars — for women.
That’s more investment. It’s more spending power. In other words, paid leave is good for our economy.
If you think American workers should have access to paid leave — just as workers do in every other industrialized country in the world — then raise your voice and speak out about it. Post on Facebook, write a letter to the editor, and most importantly, call your representative and tell them to support paid leave too. Tell them why paid leave is a necessity. If you run a business, tell them how it would improve your retention and morale. If you’re a worker, tell them how much it would help your family.
We all have a responsibility to help pass good paid leave laws, and if enough of us speak out about it, we know we will be able to do it. So let’s get to work and fight for paid leave.
Kirsten Gillibrand is a U.S. senator from New York. Faith Winter is a Colorado state representative from Westminster.