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Time for Paid Family Leave

Andy O'Brien
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The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) passed 30 years ago and guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to working families.

Led by the National Partnership for Women & Families, the labor movement fought in coalition with women’s, disability, children’s, religious and senior citizens’ groups. It took nine years, but the FMLA finally passed with bipartisan support. Since then workers have used the law 460 million times.

However, we have always seen the FMLA as a stepping stone because unpaid leave is not good enough. Under the FMLA, businesses with over 50 employees working more than 25 hours per week must provide at least 12 weeks of unpaid family leave. And under Maine law, employers with 15 or more workers are required to provide 10 weeks of unpaid leave, as long as the employee has been working at the same place for at least a year.

Currently, only 1 in 4 private-sector workers in America have paid family leave, meaning that millions of Americans are regularly forced to choose between earning a living and spending time with a newborn, caring for a sick relative, or recovering from a serious illness. In fact, the US and Papua New Guinea are the only two nations without a paid parental leave policy out of 185 countries surveyed by the International Labour Organization. Even much less wealthy countries have some form of paid maternity leave, including Iraq (9 weeks), Bangladesh (9 weeks), Ethiopia (13 weeks), Sudan (8 weeks), Afghanistan (13 weeks), Nigeria (6 weeks) and Laos (13 weeks).

Working people deserve better. No one should have to choose between a paycheck or their health and family.

So we’ll keep fighting—for paid sick leave, for paid parental leave, and for the dignity and respect working families deserve. The Maine Legislature is currently considering a proposal to create a statewide paid leave program that would provide financial security to 600,000 Mainers. We are engaged in this debate in Augusta and are advocating for the strongest paid leave proposal for working Mainers.