WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 17, 2013) — Only 12 percent of workers in the United States — and just 4 percent of low-wage workers — currently have access to paid family leave through their employers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. But that could change under legislation introduced last week in Congress.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) have introduced the FAMILY Act, a national paid family and medical leave insurance program that would allow workers to take paid leave to care for a new baby, a seriously ill family member, or their own medical needs.
For the past 20 years, the Family & Medical Leave Act has guaranteed unpaid leave and job protection for serious family and medical reasons. But it does not apply to part-time workers or anyone who work at businesses with fewer than 50 employees. And the most common reason cited by those who are eligible for not taking FMLA leave is that they cannot afford to do so.
“Without pay, most workers simply cannot afford to take off the time they need,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “For a nation built on family values, this is unacceptable.” He added:
The FAMILY Act will be especially important to young workers, part-time and low-wage workers, regardless of their employer’s size or their duration on the job. And the FAMILY Act will be a win for employers as well, because it will lower employee turnover rates and increase productivity, if passed.
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The FAMILY Act would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave each year to qualifying workers for the birth or adoption of a new child, the serious illness of an immediate family member, or a worker’s own medical condition. Workers would be eligible to collect benefits equal to 66 percent of their typical monthly wages, with a capped monthly maximum amount of $1,000 per week.
In a column that appeared in The Stand last week, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler said that this is a priority issue for working women, but it would benefit all Americans.
“Lack of access to paid family leave doesn’t just affect women — it affects whole families, all of us,” Shuler wrote. “At some point, nearly everyone needs time away from work to recover from a serious illness or care for a sick loved one or new child.”
The United States is out of step with most developed nations in not requiring some form of paid family leave. Of the 188 countries for which data are available, the U.S. is one of just seven that do not guarantee paid maternity leave.
For more information, see “How the new paid family leave bill will benefit everyone” at Think Progress.