If it’s good enough for Massachusetts, why can’t it work across the United States?
I’m speaking up as a small business owner to celebrate the good we can do when we work together — and when politicians are listening to us.
People should be able to take paid time away from work to welcome a new child, care for a sick loved one, or recover from an illness of their own. Thanks to the laws we’ve passed here in the Commonwealth, working people can do all those things. Earlier this summer, we passed legislation that guarantees access to paid family and medical leave.
However, the rest of America may not be as lucky. Recently, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, introduced a restrictive and exclusive parental leave bill. The legislation would only provide paid leave to new parents, leaving out the vast majority of working people who need to take time away from work to care for a serious personal or family illness.
To make matters worse, the legislation forces people to borrow against their future Social Security earnings, despite the low cost of creating a fully funded national paid leave program. The Social Security penalty is worst for women and people of color given that Social Security benefits are often their only source of income in retirement.
A strong national paid family and medical leave policy makes a difference to me as a business owner who knows that caring for people is an important part of my bottom line. Policies like this help small businesses like mine and the 20 employees I’m responsible for.
Recently, one of my employees — who I’ll call Charlie — told me his mother was ill and he was setting up a mother-in-law apartment to care for her. But, after working all day as an HVAC tech, he just didn’t have the time and energy.
We were as flexible and understanding as we could be. We used earned sick time and paid time off as much as we could afford to. Charlie needed more, but he couldn’t take unpaid time off with two kids in college, a mortgage, and medical expenses. Both his work and his attention to his mother suffered.
I’ve been through this with my own family, and I would have offered paid leave to my employees if I could have afforded it. But I couldn’t. My business didn’t have the money to pay for extended leave, and we didn’t have the time or skills to manage and administer a paid family medical leave program on our own. Setting up an insurance program, managing the qualifications, eligibility and writing the checks is outside our skill set.
I need Charlie and other employees like him. Properly training and preparing a new HVAC tech takes five years at minimum.
Losing skilled employees and having to recruit and train new ones hurts our ability to help our customers and could cost us their business.
That’s why I’m thankful for the paid family and medical leave policy we won in Massachusetts.
One of the many benefits of the new state paid leave insurance program is that no matter how big or small your business, you can offer this benefit. That means businesses like mine can provide employees with paid time to address family caregiving and medical needs, and still have funds to pay for a replacement or more overtime for other employees to keep our business running. That should be true no matter what state you live in.
Luckily, a similar bill exists at the federal level, and it’s called the FAMILY Act. The FAMILY Act creates a national family and medical leave insurance program. It is fully funded by employers and employees, with an average contribution of $1.50 per week. The contributions go into a pooled fund, and when workers or business owners need to take time away from work, we can draw a portion of our income from the fund. It’s a real solution that puts the interest of Main Street small business owners and our employees first.
Policies like this are a win-win for families, workers, Main Street businesses, our communities and our economy. They help us all take the time to care for ourselves and our loved ones. And they help level the playing field between small businesses and big corporations, which have the market power to give good benefits to top managers while squeezing low-wage workers.
I’m thankful politicians in Massachusetts listened to Main Street businesses and fought for what we and our local economies needed, high-road employment policies like the new paid family medical leave law. Now, it’s time for our elected officials in Washington to do the same by supporting the FAMILY Act.