Patching Up Paid Leave: Big business helped block paid family and medical leave from Build Back Better, but the need has never been more urgent.

AuthorBader, Eleanor J.

Twenty-one years ago, Gayle Goldin was standing on a balcony when it collapsed in an accident that broke her back. But despite a difficult recovery, the physical pain was made worse by worry about lost wages and an ever-increasing mountain of bills.

As weeks of rehab became months, Goldin was unable to work, and turned to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which had passed Congress in 1993. Unfortunately, it proved less helpful than Goldin had expected.

Although the act provided up to twelve weeks of leave to workers who were recovering from an illness or accident, had just given birth or adopted a child, or needed to care for an immediate family member, the allowed leave was unpaid. Not only that, it was restricted to employees of public agencies or companies with fifty or more workers within a seventy-five-mile radius. It further required employees to have logged at least 1,250 working hours in the previous twelve months. Part-time and seasonal workers, as well as new hires, were excluded, and workers could not use the FMLA to attend to domestic partners, or relatives including adult children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, or nephews.

These barriers outraged Goldin, and as she healed, she began to reach out to activist groups in her Rhode Island community. The goal was getting the state to provide paid family and medical leave for all workers.

"Fairly quickly we got the legislature to pull together a task force that created a small benefit for adoptive families," Goldin tells The Progressive. "Rhode Island residents who gave birth were able to receive short-term financial help through the states Temporary Disability Insurance program, but the law left adoptive parents out. The legislature rectified this by giving adopters a tax credit. It was a tiny thing."

Still, it was a start, and the victory led to widespread interest in winning paid leave. By 2011, Goldin's efforts had picked up speed, and a coalition organized by the Women's Fund of Rhode Island brought an array of groups together to push for a state FMLA. A year later, Goldin ran for state senate on a platform focusing on this issue. She was elected and quickly made good on her promise, introducing a bill to expand workplace benefits during her first year in office. The effort succeeded, and Rhode Island became the third state to provide paid medical and family leave. Rhode Island workers with Temporary Caregiver Insurance can currently receive...

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