By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) teamed up with State Rep. Erika Geiss (D-12th District), parents, educators and small business owners July 6 for a roundtable discussion on the need for a comprehensive paid family and medical leave program for Americans.
Mothering Justice founding director Danielle Atkinson, Taylor elementary school teacher Jessica Madden, YumVillage founder Godwin Ihentuge and doula Olivia Harper gave their diverse views on solutions for the program.
Currently, Dingell is working in Congress to pass, “The Healthy Families Act and The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act to provide paid time off for individuals to recover from an illness or welcome a new child,” a press release said.
“The Healthy Families Act guarantees workers the right to earn up to seven paid sick days to care for themselves or a loved one who is sick, or to take time off to address domestic violence,” the press release said. “The FAMILY Act ensures that workers can take paid family and medical leave when they need it to care for a new child or for themselves or a relative with a serious health condition.”
Currently, the Family Medical Leave Act act provides employees who have worked for an employer for at least 12 months and 1,250 hours within 12 months with 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave.
The FAMILY act seeks to provide workers with up to 12 weeks of paid leave when they take time off for pregnancy and childbirth recovery, serious health condition of a child, parent, spouse or domestic partner, the birth or adoption of a child and for certain military caregiving and leave.
Also the Healthy Families Act will guarantee seven days of paid medical leave per year to use to recover from an illness, care for a newborn or sick family member.
Dingell emphasized that not enough people know how serious the issue is and that most people are working two jobs to support their families so they cannot take time off when they are sick or a relative is sick.
“We have to understand the struggle that parents and families are going through when they can’t take off and resort to going to work while they are sick or distracted because a family member is sick,” she said. “Legislation has been introduced but there has to be more discussion.”
During the roundtable at Western Wayne Family Health Centers, 26650 Eureka Road, those in attendance agreed that there is a need for a new program and have seen their employees and students sick or distracted.
“Every one of us has been sick,” Atkinson said. “It is universal. But far too many people — when illness and economic reality meet — are forced to choose between a paycheck they need and the people they love. It’s time to pass The Healthy Families Act and The FAMILY Act.”
“As a teacher, I see first-hand what happens when students come to school sick because their parents do not have the ability to stay home with them,” Madden said. “Children who are sick should be at home getting well and earned paid sick time policies will help ensure that they can.”
“As a restaurant owner, I believe that workers deserve paid time off when they are sick,” Ihentuge said. “The restaurant industry has helped lead to the economic growth we are experiencing in the Detroit area and it’s time that restaurant workers shared in that prosperity. Earned paid sick time policies would be a step in the right direction.”
For child birth, Harper said there is not enough done for new mothers who need additional paid time off to care for themselves or their children.
“I support policies that give new mothers the chance to take paid time off to take a sick baby to the doctor or even a healthy baby visit,” she said.
Issues in the American workforce still include that “more than 60 percent of households with children, all adults are working,” the press release said. “But the United States has failed to adopt federal workplace policies that reflect this reality. The U.S. remains the world’s only wealthy nation that does not mandate a minimum of paid sick leave, vacation leave or parental leave. Nationally, 41 million private sector workers – 36 percent of the workforce – do not have access to any sick leave at all. Millions more workers cannot earn paid sick time they can use to care for a sick child or family member.
“According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, if all workers had access to paid sick days, emergency room visits would decline by 1.3 million visits a year, saving $1.1 billion annually. More than half of those savings would be to public health insurance programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program and without basic protections like paid sick days and paid family leave, many working parents are one illness or accident away from losing their jobs.”
There is no timeline to pass the legislation, but Dingell and Geiss are working at the federal and state levels to continue the discussion so their colleagues are informed and prepared.
“Talking is essential because paid medical leave affects all families, businesses and education systems,” Geiss said. “We will keep talking unit it happens and have the topic on the lips of everybody.”
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)