WASHINGTON —- Several advocates dressed in groundhog costumes gathered outside the Capitol Thursday morning to urge Congress to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act and ensure paid leave for workers.
“We’re tired of being in the shadows,” said Ruth Martin, senior vice president and chief workplace justice officer of the social welfare organization MomsRising.
The event was held on Groundhog’s Day and in the lead up to FMLA’s 30th anniversary this weekend. According to a statement released by the organization on Wednesday, members wore the costumes because “like a groundhog that sees its shadow, Republicans in Congress have scurried back underground, blocking the progress the country needs.”
Former President Clinton signed The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) into law on February 5, 1993, after opponents blocked it for nearly a decade. It allows employees who have worked at a company for at least 12 months and accrued at least 1,250 hours to take a 12-week unpaid leave without risk of losing their job, but only if the company has 50 or more employees.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute, about 44% of workers are ineligible to take unpaid leave under FMLA.
In a Thursday press release, President Biden issued a memorandum calling on the heads of federal agencies to support access to unpaid leave for employees, including during their first year on the job. He also said he has been working with state legislators to expand access to paid family and medical leave.
“Access to paid leave has proven to help keep people out of poverty, keep them in the jobs they need, strengthen their economic security,” said Martin. “It’s a really vital thing that all parents need, [and] all working people need, not just moms.”
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia have already passed paid family and medical leave laws.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), alongside other democratic leaders, have been pushing to modernize FMLA and enshrine paid leave into federal law.
Gillibrand and DeLauro proposed the FAMILY Act to ensure that every worker has access to paid leave. In conjunction, Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) and Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL) reintroduced the Job Protection Act, which would close gaps in FMLA coverage by expanding protections to part-time workers and those employed by small businesses.
“No one should ever have to decide between caring for a loved one and earning a paycheck,” said Gillibrand during a Wednesday press conference.
While expanded FMLA and paid leave has received support from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, the parties have failed to reach common ground on how it will be funded. Democratic proposals have typically been structured as tax-funded payments, while Republicans, who want to cut spending, prefer to incentivize employers through tax credits.
“It’s not good policy, it’s not sustainable, and it doesn’t actually increase access to paid leave,” said Martin of Republicans’ tax credit approach. “But we welcome anyone who wants to talk about what a good policy looks like; then we can make sure that we’re getting comprehensive coverage.”
To continue to amplify their voices, representatives of the organization walked to the offices of key Congress members to deliver their message.