Submitted by State Rep. Ken Gordon
State Representative Kenneth Gordon (D-Bedford) was invited to the White House last week to discuss Paid Family and Medical Leave , a bill he filed this session. The bill will enable Massachusetts workers to recover up to 60 percent of their income if they leave work temporarily due to the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for a sick child or relative.
“I was honored to be included among legislators from seven other states, the mayor of Pittsburgh and the office of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to discuss paid family leave with the White House staff,” said Gordon, who attended a presentation organized by the Office of Intergov-ernmental Affairs (OIA) and the U.S. Department of Labor. “The Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, and Deputy Secretary Chris Lu made it clear that the President supports this bill and is willing to offer any assistance he can to ensure its passage.”
Secretary Perez put the matter in succinct terms. “We talk about family values,” he said. “The greatest family value is time.”
Together with an identical bill filed by Senate Ways and Means Chair Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), the legislation has been co-sponsored by 60 other Representatives and 17 other Senators. The plan will compensate workers who have been with an employer for at least one year, after they have missed at least one week of work due to the birth or adoption of a child, to care for a sick or injured child or relative, or for other specific reasons. Workers will receive up to 60 percent of their pay, limited to $1,000 per week, for up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave.
The White House and Labor Department provided studies from California and Rhode Island, which have adopted paid family leave programs through insurance coverage. According to a study presented by Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University, more than half of Rhode Island businesses responding to her survey reported that the new law had a positive effect on their companies. Turnover was lower, costs of recruiting, advertising and training were reduced, and morale was improved.
Rep. Gordon and the other legislators heard from Secretary Perez and met with Deputy Secretary Chris Lu before attending a strategy session in the White House chaired by OIA Director Jerry Abramson and Associate Director Alissa Ko, and including Tina Tchen, the Chief of Staff for the First Lady who is also the Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.
“This law is especially important to Burlington and Bedford,” said Rep. Gordon. “To remain competitive with Silicon Valley companies, many of our high-tech employers already offer paid family leave as a recruiting tool. But,while California companies can spread out the cost of the benefit through the state-sponsored California Paid Leave Act, Massachusetts employers must go it alone. We are at a competitive disadvantage.”
Rep. Gordon went on to explain some of the reasons he filed the bill. “The cost of doing nothing is far too great. The average maternity leave in the United States is 10 weeks, but due to financial stress, the average time women actually spend away from work after childbirth is half of that. One third of women in this country take no time at all.
“This bill is about kids. Children and parents face their greatest fears when confronting some of the illnesses treated in places such as Lahey Clinic, Dana Farber and Children’s Hospital. This is a time for moms and dads to hold their kids close to them. It is not a time parents should be to be pressured to kiss their kids goodbye as they head off to work, in fear of losing a job.”
Among countries responding to a Pew Foundation survey, the only ones that offer no form of paid family leave are the United States and Papua New Guinea. “It is time for Massachusetts once again to point the direction for the country,” said Gordon. “I am confident that with the President’s help, we will be able to pass this important bill this session.”