By Elyce Nollette, Public Policy Associate
Every day, 11% of our workforce shows to up work hoping to not get sick.
These workers probably also hope their children, parents, and dependents don’t get sick as well. That is the daily reality of American workers who do not have access to paid sick or family leave.
For many parents, having a job and having a family are mutually exclusive. If they need to take care of a family member or themselves, they could lose wages, face disciplinary action, or even worse, get fired. All Americans, including diverse Americans, want to have strong families— be there for their children and parents when they need them most. They also want to have the resources and support to be successful in their jobs. However, many often find themselves forcing to choose one over the other because the alternative doesn’t solve their need. Millions of workers who are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act don’t take it, or use it sparingly— despite the job protection safeguards— mostly because it is still unpaid leave, wages that working parents simply can’t afford to lose.
Such decisions weaken our country, and wreak havoc among diverse families who tend to live in intergenerational households and rely on informal caregiving to take care of each other.
On election night last year, several paid sick leave initiatives were ushered in with ample margins in the state of Massachusetts, and the cities of Oakland, CA, Montclair, NJ and Trenton, NJ. While these were significant wins, there are still millions of workers in other states who deserve the same access. The good news is we can change this though through the FAMILY Act, also known as the Healthy Families Act. The bill creates a national paid family and medical leave program, which was recently re-introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CN). The bill is based on already successful and effective state paid leave laws and would reduce economic inequality and improve economic opportunities for all Americans, while simultaneously help hardworking women and men meet their caregiving needs.
The FAMILY Act is a game changer for Latinos and other diverse communities.
- In 2004, only 45.3% of all U.S. Hispanic workers had access to paid sick days, in comparison to the 61% access rate of the entire population.
- According to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, an additional 5.6 million Latino workers would have access to paid sick leave under the Healthy Families Act, equating to a 78% employee coverage increase.
- Additionally, the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee anticipates that an additional 3.9 million African-American workers would gain access to paid sick leave under the FAMILY Act.
- In 2004, 65.2% of all U.S. Asian workers had access to paid sick days, and under the FAMILY Act, the percentage will do nothing but grow.
- Although the FAMILY Act does not specifically name same-sex partners and spouses in its provisions, it does utilize inclusive language that makes paid leave available for families in all of their diverse forms including the LGBT community.
- Paid sick and family leave helps to increase worker productivity, promote preventive care, and decrease the spread of contagious illnesses and diseases, which in turn has a positive effect on the economy.
The FAMILY Act has gotten off to a slow start, but together we can change this.
The bill was referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce, as well as the Committees on House Administration, and Oversight and Government Reform, and needs to be voted on so it can then have a chance at a vote on the House and Senate floors. The only way action will be taken to move the Healthy Families Act and make it a reality for all working Americans is by speaking up and taking action. The best way to encourage the committee to act is by emailing and calling the Committee on Education and the Workforce, as well as reaching out to its members individually so they know that diverse communities want and need this important piece of legislation.