Paid Leave Should Value All Care and All Families

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Paid Leave Should Value All Care and All Families

"For being a first world country, we are dead last when it comes to paid leave," writes Halber. "We need to get with the rest of the world." (Photo courtesy of Ellen Bravo)

I worked in the service industry for many years. Five years ago when my son was born, I had a C-section and was allowed 6 weeks to heal. The time was unpaid. I had some complications but work put a lot of pressure on me. They told me they really needed me back after 5 weeks and could only guarantee me I would have a job, but not necessarily a shift. I needed the pay and went back even though I wasn't yet healed and missed the bonding time both my son and I needed from breast feeding. When my son was 4 months old, I woke up with a fever so high I had blisters on my face. I was rushed to the hospital, where I was told I had a blood infection that would have killed me had I not come in. My doctors said I had put too much stress on my body.

Now I'm part owner of a construction company. I want my employees to be able to bond with their families, take care of themselves or a sick loved one. I believe the family bond is stronger than anything we're doing work wise. Time with family at these crucial times not only helps the family, but also the community.

For being a first world country, we are dead last when it comes to paid leave. We need to get with the rest of the world. We need a plan like the one they’re working on (pdf) in my home state of Oregon, that pools small contributions from employees and employers and creates a fund where low-wage workers can earn up to 90 percent of their wages for 18 weeks to care for a new baby, 12 weeks to care for themselves or a family member who is sick. The proposl allows for inclusion – anyone a person might consider family. It would pertain to all workers regardless of their occupation or their level of income. 

The Trump plan, on the other hand, is unworkable and leaves out the very people who most need leave. It requires state unemployment plans to come up with a way to pay. That could increase the price of unemployment insurance for small businesses and with no firm funding source, there's no guarantee there will be money left to pay people whose employers paid into the program.

I think that would hurt small business. Right now 31 percent of new small businesses are started by women, 27 percent by minorities. We're the ones who hire women and minorities. We try to ensure our employees can have a good life. That's the heart of America, what makes America great. Trump's plan would rob Peter to pay Paul and leaves the middle class make up for it.

Under the current unemployment system, not everyone qualifies – so a lot of people will be left out. The amount most people get from unemployment wouldn't be enough. And it's only for parents of a new child and only six weeks. I know from personal experience that six weeks is not enough time to heal and recover from an illness. People need the security and knowledge to know they'll have enough time to heal from an illness without rushing back to work in fear of losing their livelihood.

More than 75 percent of those who take family leave take it for personal illness or to care for a family member – they won’t be covered under this plan. We send the message that we don't value people's health and we don't value family. That's not what America is all about.

The social insurance pool model is what we need. It helps level the playing field with big corporations. It's a way small businesses can invest in their employees. It's such a small amount, and such a big benefit.

Amber Halbert

Amber Halbert is part owner of a construction company in Eugene, Oregon and a member of Main Street Alliance, a national network of small business owners.

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