The move to institute paid sick and maternity/paternity leave in the United States got a boost from the election of Barack Obama and a slap from the economy. So where’s the movement headed?
Read into this what you will, but First Lady to-be Michelle Obama has identified “work/family balance” as one of the issues she’ll focus on when she moves into the White House.
And President-elect Obama and the Democratic members of Congress have said they’ll give priority to legislation like the Healthy Families Act — which, among other things, guarantees paid sick leave (see a summary of the act). Standing in the way of those promises is a rough economy that has a lot of businesses operating on the edge already.
So where are proposals like paid sick and FMLA leave going? Even some Democrats aren’t sure about what to do now.
3 States say ‘no’ — for now
Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, for instance, withdrew a ballot measure for paid sick leave in his state for fear of weakening businesses there in already tough times and putting them at a competitive disadvantage with businesses in neighboring states that don’t have paid sick leave. Democratic strongholds like Washington State and New Jersey have stalled on similar measures, for the same reasons Strickland cited in Ohio.
That doesn’t mean the movement is dead. More likely, state leaders are waiting for Congress to set up a national program so that no state will be at a business disadvantage. And Congress and Obama may be ready to take up the cause.
Sen. Chris Dodd (D., CT), who wrote the original Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, has said he supports and will push for a proposal to offer eight weeks of paid family leave, funded by the combined contributions of employees and employers. And Obama campaigned on the idea of changing the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover companies with as few as 25 employees, instead of the 50-employee minimum in the act now.
Add up the two proposals and you get paid leave for anyone who works for a company of at least 25 employees.
U.S. v. the world
Right now, the U.S. has three cities that mandate paid sick leave — Milwaukee, San Francisco and Washington. One state, California, has paid FMLA, and eight other states have legislation pending on the matter.
Proponents of paid sick/FMLA leave point to statistics that appear to put the U.S. behind developed countries on the issue:
- 66 countries guarantee that fathers receive paid paternity leave or have a right to paid parental leave.
- Only four countries of 173 surveyed don’t guarantee some form of paid maternity leave. The four are Liberia, Swaziland, Papua New Guinea and the United States.
- At least 145 countries provide paid sick days, and 136 offer at least one week a year.
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