A few weeks in, this program is already improving lives in Washington state. But it didn’t just happen. It took years of hard work by some amazing people.
By DAVID GROVES
“Point of Personal Privilege”
(Jan. 20, 2020) — First of all, I want you to read the following guest column published in The Seattle Times by Rachel Stevens, who is a freelance writer, creative director and radio producer in Seattle.
Good news, bad news: I’m going to be a mom — and I got laid off — Before this phone call with the state’s new state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave office, I was hopeless and did not know how I would plan and provide for my new child. I can now exhale in relief because under this state benefit, my husband and I will both receive 12 weeks of Paid Family Leave to bond with our baby. Beyond that, I will get an additional four weeks of medical leave for giving birth. Washington state is the fifth state in the nation to offer paid family and medical leave benefits to workers. I raise a glass (of seltzer) to toast these benefits that will help me focus on truly caring for my growing family instead of panicking about financial stress. It warms my heart knowing that other mothers, fathers, caregivers and families of all kinds across Washington now have access to this same relief.
Go ahead. Follow the link and read it. The whole thing. I’ll wait right here.
Washington’s new Paid Family and Medical Leave program began providing benefits on Jan. 2, 2020. It guarantees workers three types of paid leave:
► MEDICAL LEAVE when a serious health condition prevents you from working. This covers a wide range of serious health needs. For example, you can qualify because of a major surgery, after giving birth to a baby, for bed rest during pregnancy, to receive treatment for a chronic health condition, and to receive inpatient treatment for substance abuse or mental health.
► FAMILY LEAVE when you need to take time off to care for a family member. If your family member has a serious health condition that would qualify them for medical leave, or if you’re welcoming a new baby or child into your family, that’s when you can take family leave. All new parents can apply for up to 12 weeks of leave to bond with a newborn, adopted or foster child younger than 18 years old.
► MILITARY LEAVE allows you to spend time with a family member in the military. If your family member is about to be deployed overseas or is returning from overseas deployment, that’s when you can take this type of family leave.
As Rachel Stevens’ excellent column attests, this program is already making a big difference in the lives of Washington families.
But it didn’t just happen. It took the efforts of many people, over the span of nearly two decades of advocacy.
► Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent), Rep. June Robinson (D-Everett) and former Sen. Joe Fain (R-Auburn), who worked across the aisle in 2017 to reach a bipartisan agreement on SB 5975, all of the state senators and representatives who voted for it, and Gov. Jay Inslee who actively supported it and signed it into law.
► The Economic Opportunity Institute, and in particular, heroic EOI Policy Director Marilyn Watkins who tirelessly advocated for this program for many years, and as you read this, continues to do so to make it even better.
► All of the many labor unions, organizations and individuals who are active in the Washington Work and Family Coalition led by Watkins, including the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC), UFCW 21, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, Teamsters 117, Mom’s Rising, Legal Voice, and others.
► The many lobbyists, community advocates, parents, small business owners, and many others who came to Olympia to rally and testify in support of Paid Family and Medical Leave.
► And a special shout-out to WSLC Government Affairs Director Joe Kendo, who’s holding his baby in the SB 5975 bill-signing photo (below) from 2017 — and will become a father again any day now. Kendo is as passionate, intelligent and effective an advocate as the labor movement could possibly hope for. We are fortunate — and our state is fortunate — to have him working in Olympia on our behalf.
Advocating for working families can be a brutal job. What seems such an obvious solution to a problem people face can require many years — and many long days — of research, education and persuasion, of listening, rethinking and negotiating, to try to see to fruition. And through all the ups and downs of this process, on occasion you are accused of selfish motives and vilified personally.
But you persevere. And after all that, sometimes — only sometimes — your solution to that problem is adopted. Then the work begins anew to make sure the solution is working as intended to help as many as possible.
It takes special people to tackle this kind of frustrating, and too-often thankless, work. So on behalf of all Washingtonians, THANK YOU to all of those who made this important program a reality.
One day when your working days are over, it will be achievements like Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program, something that will improve the lives of countless families, that you will look back upon and know that you made a difference. A big difference.
David Groves is Editor of The Stand.