Albright: Time To Care

May 8, 2018

The Vermont House has approved a bill that would make all employees eligible for six weeks of paid leave at 80 percent of their salary.

A Senate proposal expands the leave time and lowers the payment. Either plan would be funded by an estimated income tax surcharge of about 14 hundredths of 1 percent.

That means I might only have to pay, say, an extra 75 dollars a year to make sure that my daughter and son-in-law, who both work, and who have two young children and assorted elders, could take time off to care for each other if they get sick. Or their kids. Or me, God forbid.

But I’m not just thinking of myself, here – because helping everyone balance life and work simply makes sense. Besides, with unemployment at historic lows, workers have choices about where to punch the clock. Rhode Island, California, New Jersey, New York, Hawaii, Washington, D.C., and Washington state have all passed paid family and medical leave measures.

That’s because the landmark federal Family and Medical Leave Act, passed 25 years ago doesn’t cover everyone. To be eligible, you must work for an employer with at least 50 employees within 75 miles of the work site, and you have to have been on the job 12 months prior to requesting leave. Low-income workers more likely to work part-time, and change jobs, fall through the cracks.

Our state legislature could fill those gaps – but Governor Phil Scott has threatened a veto. This, despite a 2017 Pew Research Center poll, that found Americans largely support paid leave - Vermonters included I’d guess.

Crisis experts advise us to stock up on - and share - water, non-perishable food, and candles. But weather isn’t the only thing that upends lives. Sickness can also wreak havoc, and I see family leave as yet another way to help each other through challenging times.

My mother, if she were alive, would be 110 this year. She didn’t work outside the house, but she had her hands full with four kids and, at one point, two dying parents under our roof. She lived when a lot of mothers did not hold paying jobs. But if she’d had one, I think what she’d have wanted most for Mother’s Day was not flowers or candy but time - paid time to care for people who sometimes need you even more than your boss does.