Sep 07, 2022
The United States is one of the only countries in the world that does not guarantee any form of paid leave for its workers. It's certainly impacted me: 13 years ago I was working at an auto parts company as an assistant manager, and was already struggling with my work to find time off. One day, in the middle of work, I received a call that so many of us dread: It was my father's doctor, and my father needed open heart surgery.
I sincerely believe people shouldn't have to choose between supporting their families and potentially losing their jobs.
I lived and worked in Colorado, and my dad was all the way back in El Paso, Texas. I wanted to be with him during what was obviously a stressful time. My company gave me four days off-I took the bus to El Paso, prepared my dad for surgery, and came right back to work.
When I got back to Colorado, I tried my best to balance work with keeping in touch with the doctors about my father's health. As the situation got more dire and my dad's intestines began to fail, I spoke with my manager about leaving to spend time with my dad.
The response I received was "I don't have anyone to cover your shift."
Eventually, I got a call from the doctor asking me if I wanted to take my father off life support. I had to make this decision while at work, arguing with a customer about an alternator. I wasn't able to see my father again before he passed, and all I could think about was him being alone as he took his last breath.
I eventually went back to Texas to help plan a military funeral for my father, which is already an incredibly complicated process. When I talked to my manager about the time I needed, I was informed I would be suspended for three days for missing work, and that I wouldn't be paid for the week I was gone. The financial repercussions were enormous. Between the lost wages, the cost of driving from Colorado to Texas, and paying for the funeral, I started falling behind on my car payments and I couldn't pay my light bill. It took me almost eight months to financially recover from taking that one week off of work.
I still haven't been to the cemetery where my father is buried, and it took me years to fully grapple with the guilt I felt from having to decide to take him off life support at work far away instead of while I was there with him. And it still affects me to this day. Like many people, during the COVID-19 pandemic I had to make hard decisions about taking other family members off of life support systems, situations that triggered a lot of the wounds I still have from my father's death.
I've been advocating for paid leave policies (both federally and in Colorado) for the past 9 years, currently as a Member of 9 to 5's Colorado and as a Leader on Paid Leave for All's Voices of Worker's advisory group, because from my experiences I sincerely believe people shouldn't have to choose between supporting their families and potentially losing their jobs. And I know from experience that it simply doesn't have to be this way. Years later, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. By this time I had found a different job with a manager who was incredibly understanding about my need to spend the time I needed with my mother. I was able to take her to Mexico while she was alive, and eventually take her ashes back to Mexico after she passed. Although it was heartbreaking to lose her, I have nowhere near the amount of guilt that surrounds my father's death thanks to the leave that allowed me to attend to my mother's situation.
To allow for more of these experiences and less experiences like I had to go through with my father we need a federal policy, and it also must be equitable. I am currently fostering a baby, a situation that many parental leave policies don't cover despite how important that time is for bonding with an infant, whether it's biological or not. This challenge is felt acutely by LGBTQ+ individuals, where fostering a child is an important pathway to parenthood for many. The lack of a federal policy also harms transgender people, many of whom cannot receive paid leave for gender affirming medical care. Any policy needs to keep these kinds of situations in mind, or risk perpetuating the economic and social disparities we already face in this country.
Our Congresspeople have access to paid leave policies through their work, and need to understand that if it's good enough for them it's good enough for their constituents. I have children myself, and they'll need paid leave in the future just like I needed paid leave to be with my mother and father and still need paid leave now to be with my foster child. It's time for Congress to pass a real and comprehensive paid leave policy--one which protects the families, health, and economic security of all Americans.
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