All individuals define themselves using multiple identities that ultimately determine their perspective on life. I not only see myself as a student, daughter, and friend, but also as a human rights advocate, feminist, and leader. These last three identities have a large impact on my decision to support the concept of family medical leave insurance (FMLI) here in Connecticut and around the world.
As a human rights advocate, I stand with those who are currently left out of, struggle with, or are unaware of the current Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which, as mentioned in my previous FMLA blog, does not allow the majority of workers to support their families. I believe that it is a human right to be able to take time off of work to care for oneself, an ill/aging family member, or a newborn baby without fear of losing one’s job and with the appropriate pay to cover basic needs. The necessity to take leave from work in certain situations is a reality that every single employee and employer faces and it is about time that policies fit the needs of human beings rather than some elusive concept of business.
Many in the business world bring up the argument that employers are also individuals with rights and that their businesses need to be protected in order for them to sustain themselves. While valid points have been raised, the fact is that FMLI is taking into account these employers and treating them as human beings by ensuring that the employer is able to continue and actually save more than with their own leave policies alone.
If workers can draw benefits from a FMLI program in lieu of some part of what the employer would otherwise provide, the employer enjoys a costs savings. In the first comprehensive study of California’s Family Leave Insurance program, the majority of employers reported either cost savings or no additional costs associated with implementation because they temporarily assigned the work of employees on leave to other employees or hired temporary replacements. In other words, the concept of FMLI does not hurt businesses as much as some have expected and is thus beneficial to both employers and employees.
As a feminist, I am aware that women are often discriminated against under the FMLA as they are still considered the primary caretaker of their children. While Connecticut has one of the most broad Family and Medical Leave laws, there are still a significant number of parents who have little to no time off after the birth of their child. In addition, many families cannot afford to take unpaid FMLA because in today’s economy, both parents in a two-family household need to work in order to make ends meet.
For single-parents with a newborn child, there are additional financial challenges that are mostly faced by mothers. As I mentioned in my blog post about the new Women’s Economic Agenda, true equality cannot be reached in the workplace without affordable and accessible child care. This does not only affect women as families and the next generation will also suffer as gains in workplace equity won't be realized by mothers who can't return to work in the first place.
As a leader, I believe that it is my responsibility to bring people together for the common good which, in this case, is protecting human rights through FMLI. I hope to inspire others to see how all members of society can benefit from a family and medical leave program that is tailored to the needs and rights of human beings. For more information on the recently established FMLI Task Force, please visit www.ctfmli.org.