Arguing that "when families thrive, we all thrive," nearly 200 companies and organizations on Tuesday sent a memo to U.S. congressional leaders urging them to work with the Biden administration to include paid parental leave in its proposed $3 trillion "Build Back Better Recovery Plan."
"To have almost 200 companies come out and go on the record in support of a public policy position like paid leave is really unprecedented."
—Annie Sartor, PL+US
Addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the memo from Paid Leave for the U.S. (PL+US), a "national campaign to win paid family and medical leave by 2022," calls on lawmakers to "respond to the unprecedented economic, health, and safety challenges faced by the business community as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic" by passing "permanent paid family and medical leave" as part of the administration's next recovery package.
"The pandemic has exposed an acute emergency on top of an ongoing, chronic crisis," the memo argues. "At the onset of the pandemic, fewer than 21% of workers had access to paid leave through their employers. Lack of a national paid leave policy makes all of us more vulnerable during this pandemic and for future public health emergencies, while putting the financial stability of businesses on the line."
“Not having to choose between your job and taking care of a new child or a sick family member would be a real breakthrough for everyday Americans" - Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said in a statement to the @washingtonpost. https://t.co/BRhQivdLCG
rescue— PL+US (Paid Leave for the US) (@PaidLeaveUS) March 23, 2021
"We cannot emerge from this pandemic and remain one of only two countries in the world with no form of national paid leave," the memo stresses. "We need a policy that is inclusive and that protects all workers equally, regardless of what kind of work they do, where they live, or whom they love."
"Congress must work with the administration to build a framework for a permanent paid family and medical leave policy, so we're never unprepared for a crisis again," it states. "An equitable and comprehensive paid family and medical leave program must include time to welcome a newly arrived child, time to care for a seriously ill family member, and time to care for one's own serious illness."
The memo continues:
Paid leave receives consistent bipartisan support, with growing demand from businesses of all sizes and sectors. More than eight in 10 Americans (pdf) support creating a national paid leave policy and a recent report found that more than 75% of businesses agree that a national paid leave policy would help them be better positioned to weather future public health emergencies and economic crises. Access to paid leave also leads to better retention, personal health, and improved morale, which contributes to greater stability and viability for our businesses, ultimately helping our bottom line.
In short, paid leave is good for business. Paid leave is also a key element of addressing racial, class, and gender inequalities in the United States. With an equal paid leave policy in place, we can help stem the historic tide of women leaving the workforce and ensure that low-wage earners and people of color have the time they need to care for themselves and their families.
"This crisis has given us a unique opportunity to build stronger and more equitable workplaces for working people, families, and businesses, while investing in our nation's economic recovery," the memo concludes. "We urge Congress to meet the moment by passing a comprehensive federal paid family and medical leave policy that provides long-term health benefits and economic security to all American families and contributes to the vitality and sustainability of our businesses."
A wide range of companies and organizations, from tech giant Salesforce, to outdoor outfitter Patagonia, to the nonprofit Girls Who Code, signed the memo.
While 15 states and Washington, D.C. currently require employers to offer paid parental leave, only 17% of U.S. civilian workers had access to it, according to 2018 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Levi Strauss CEO: Too many companies don't have paid family leave. America can do better.
Staggering that the US is the only developed nation without mandated paid family leave. https://t.co/OqQ6c7AgGo
— Vishal Hargovan (@vhargo1) March 23, 2021
Of the 41 countries included in a 2019 Pew Research Center analysis of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations, only the United States did not mandate paid parental leave. At 86 weeks of total paid leave, Estonia offered new parents the most time off, followed by Bulgaria and Hungary.
"Not mandating paid leave is inexcusable," wrote Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss—one of the memo's signatories—in a Tuesday CNN op-ed. "It hurts workers, businesses, and our economy. Policymakers and business leaders have a moral and economic imperative to provide more assistance."
Bergh added that "Congress should move quickly to pass the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, introduced by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), as part of the next recovery package."
"Not mandating paid leave is inexcusable. It hurts workers, businesses, and our economy. Policymakers and business leaders have a moral and economic imperative to provide more assistance."
—Chip Bergh, Levi Strauss
The proposed legislation, wrote Bergh, "would provide every worker in the United States up to 12 weeks of paid time off to care for their own health, a new child, or a sick parent and spouse. This would provide immense relief to so many Americans."
While the U.S. remains glaringly absent from the list of countries guaranteeing paid parental leave, both President Joe Biden and congressional leaders have signalled an openness to changing that.
"Making paid leave a reality for all Americans is an economic necessity," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told The Washington Post. "Not having to choose between your job and taking care of a new child or a sick family member would be a real breakthrough for everyday Americans."
Annie Sartor, a senior director at PL+US, told the Post that when her group launched in 2016, "it was pretty unheard of to see these really generous paid leave policies that are more common among employers now."
"This is the closest we've ever been to winning paid family and medical leave," she said. "We have a White House that is embracing paid leave and knows it's critical. We have a Congress that's ready to act, and this is why frankly businesses are acting now. To have almost 200 companies come out and go on the record in support of a public policy position like paid leave is really unprecedented."