Members of Congress introduced the Healthy Families Act and the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act in Washington, D.C. on May 17, 2023.

Members of Congress introduced the Healthy Families Act and the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act in Washington, D.C. on May 17, 2023.

(Photo: A Better Balance/Twitter)

'End This Absurdity': Sanders, Gillibrand, and DeLauro Unveil Bills to Guarantee Paid Leave

"It is a total disgrace that millions of workers are having to choose between their job and caring for their family, their newborn child, or themselves when they are sick and in need of care," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Mothers along with leaders from nursing and railway unions joined U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro as well as Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning to introduce two bills that would guarantee paid leave nationwide.

DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Sanders (I-Vt.) are leading the Healthy Families Act (HFA), which would enable everyone working for businesses with 15 or more employees to earn up to seven paid sick days per year to "recover from their own illnesses, access preventive care, provide care to a sick family member, or attend school meetings related to a child's health condition or disability."

A fact sheet from Sanders' office highlights that "34 million American workers in the U.S. lack paid sick time entirely, including 25% of the private sector workforce and 9% of the public sector workforce," and such policies are "particularly inaccessible" for low-wage workers.

"It is time to end this absurdity," declared Sanders, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP). "It is time for the United States to join nearly every other major country in the world and finally guarantee paid sick leave."

"In the richest country in the history of the world, it is a total disgrace that millions of workers are having to choose between their job and caring for their family, their newborn child, or themselves when they are sick and in need of care," he asserted. "It is time Congress passed this legislation to ensure workers receive the basic dignity and benefits that they deserve."

DeLauro and Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) also unveiled an updated version of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would ensure that all workers in the United States have access to paid leave for serious medical events. The legislation would provide up to 12 weeks of partial income annually and ensure those with the lowest pay earn up to 85% of their normal wages.

The FAMILY Act would also ensure workers who have been at their job for over 90 days have the right to be reinstated after their leave, allow states to continue administering existing programs, and establish a new Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave. As DeLauro noted, she and Gillibrand have been fighting for versions of their bill for the past decade.

"Thirty years ago, we broke ground by enshrining the Family and Medical Leave Act into law, providing unpaid family and medical leave for working Americans," she said. "Let's break ground again by making it paid. Since 2013, I have been proud to be joined by Sen. Gillibrand in introducing the FAMILY Act, which would establish the nation's first universal, comprehensive paid family and medical leave program. This year, the fight continues, as we reintroduce a strengthened FAMILY Act to meet families where they are now and ensure no one has to make the impossible choice between their job and the health of themselves or their loved ones."

The proposals are backed by dozens of advocacy organizations and unions, with several groups and activists demanding swift passage of both bills—though the odds are unlikely, with slim Democratic control of the Senate and the House's GOP majority.

"I had my first child, I was a public school teacher, and I had to drain all my sick time to try to maintain some income during my unpaid maternity leave," said Rachel Shelton, a MomsRising member from Asheville, North Carolina, in a statement.

"That was a huge challenge, because babies get sick!" Shelton explained. "When I had my second, I made the tough decision to leave my job because the situation was unsustainable. It shouldn't be this hard to balance caregiving and work. We need Congress to pass the FAMILY Act and Healthy Families Act, now. It's past time we guarantee all working people the paid leave and paid sick days we need to care for our families and for ourselves."

National Nurses United also supports both bills. The organization's president, Jean Ross, said that "nurses want what is best for patients, and that's why our union supports paid sick and family leave for all workers. Nurses see the negative health consequences on patients when they are unable to take leave due to their own illness, or the need to care for family."

"Nobody should have to choose between their own health or the health of their loved ones, and their livelihood," Ross stressed. "Further, nursing is a majority female profession, and paid sick and family leave is essential to ensuring that nursing becomes a sustainable profession."

The introductions—which also featured remarks from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.)—come after a year of railway workers, backed by key congressional allies including Sanders, gaining national attention for their fight for paid leave in the face of dangerous working conditions and industry greed.

Mike Baldwin, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, said Wednesday that "the BRS would like to thank those members of Congress who support paid sick leave. Rail workers were deemed essential during the pandemic. They came to work sick because they didn't want to miss a day's pay, or worse be disciplined for their absence."

"This legislation is important to rail workers," he said of the HFA. "It is an essential need, and it isn't just a frivolous want."

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