Connect with us


Sen. Patty Murray keeps fighting for paid leave

‘We cannot rebuild a stronger and fairer economy if workers are forced to choose between their — and their families’ — health, or their paychecks,’ the U.S. senator says at Tuesday’s hearing


WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 19, 2021) — “Today, we are the only developed country in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid leave. When this pandemic struck, we saw just how costly this has been for workers, families, businesses, and our country. Millions of workers were forced to choose between the well-being of themselves, their coworkers, and their families, or their paycheck.”

That was how Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, on Tuesday introduced the committee’s first hearing solely on paid leave since 2007, and pushed for the United States to finally join nearly every other developed country in the world and establish a national paid sick, family, and medical leave policy.

Murray stressed that millions of workers across the country have had to weather this pandemic without paid leave — disproportionately women, workers of color, workers who are paid low incomes, and workers with disabilities — and highlighted how a lack of a national paid leave policy isn’t just bad for workers, it’s also bad for our public health, small businesses, and for our economy. A new survey indicates that lack of paid leave is slowing the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts as Black and Latino workers in particular are concerned about missing work — and pay — because of the vaccine’s side effects.

“Millions were infected and millions more — especially women and workers of color — were forced out of their jobs in large part due to lacking paid leave or quality, affordable child care options,” she said on Tuesday. “That’s a tragedy we can’t afford, we can’t repeat — and we know we can address.”

Then-state legislators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, circa 1992.

Murray’s efforts are a continuation of her advocacy that began when she served in the Washington State Legislature.

In 1989, as a freshman state senator, Murray shepherded the Family Leave Act through the State Capitol, with the support of then-state Reps. Maria Cantwell and Jay Inslee, and the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. That state law became the template for the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) signed by President Clinton in 1993.

Under that law, workers at companies with 50 or more employees can take up to 12 weeks of leave for the birth or adoption of a child, or for a serious health condition or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. But that leave is unpaid; essentially a guarantee that you can return to your job if you can afford not to work during that period. Many workers can’t afford to take that leave, which is why the FMLA was considered a first step toward guaranteeing paid family and medical leave. But Congress has failed to take that next step in the 28 years since.

In recent years, Washington state lawmakers and voters have approved both paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave coverage for all workers in the state. But very few other states have established these pro-worker policies.

On Tuesday, Murray noted that nationally four of five private-sector workers are without access to paid leave and nearly one in four mothers are forced return to work within two weeks of giving birth. She also highlighted that the access to paid leave numbers are worse for women, workers of color, workers who are paid low-incomes, and workers with disabilities — too many of whom have to make impossible choices between caring for themselves or a loved one and their paycheck.

She urged her Senate colleagues to join her in pushing to pass the FAMILY Act, a bill she reintroduced along with Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to establish a paid family and medical leave program, and the Healthy Families Act, a bill she re-introduced with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) to provide workers with paid sick days.

President Biden’s American Families Plan includes a paid family leave plan. Workers would receive a minimum of two-thirds of average weekly wages, up to $4,000 per month, for time off for the birth a child, to treat a serious illness, care for an ill family member, to handle a family member’s military deployment, or to handle issues related to sexual assault, stalking, or domestic violence. By the 10th year of the phased-in program, workers would receive 12 weeks of paid leave. The program also calls for three days of paid bereavement leave per year beginning with the first year of the program.

“We cannot rebuild a stronger and fairer economy if workers are forced to choose between their — and their families’ — health, or their paychecks,” Murray said on Tuesday. “It’s why I’m going to do everything I can to get the paid leave policy President Biden proposed in the American Families Plan across the finish line.”

With the support of President Biden and Vice President Harris, Murray made clear that momentum is growing behind paid leave. She stressed that this policy will help employers with recruitment, retention and morale, it will strengthen our economy and our public health, and it will finally ensure that paid leave is a right for all workers.

Here are Sen. Murray’s opening remarks from Tuesday’s hearing:

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!