Rep. Ken Gordon Leads Charge Committee Hears Paid Family and Medical Leave Bill

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Rep. Ken Gordon (D-Bedford) testifying about Family Medical Leave at the Massachusetts State House - Courtesy image (c) 2015 all rights reserved

Rep. Ken Gordon (D-Bedford) testifying about Family Medical Leave at the Massachusetts State House – Courtesy image (c) 2015 all rights reserved

Submitted by Rep. Ken Gordon (D-Bedford)

Representative Ken Gordon (D-Bedford) walked from the midst of a crowd of more than 100 supporters to testify on behalf of a bill he filed earlier this year that calls for the right of all Massachusetts workers to paid family and medical leave.  The bill will reimburse some income for employees in cases of the case of the birth or adoption of a child, or extended hospitalization of themselves, or a child, parent or grandparent.  The crowd included the parents of small children, expecting women, and men who sought more time to care for a family member or bond with a child.

“This bill will provide families with the gift of time,” said Gordon. “It will provide families with the time to be together in times of joy, and the time for consolation in times of illness.  As US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said, time is our greatest family value.”

If passed, Massachusetts would become the fourth state in the nation to offer some form of paid family leave.  Gordon’s bill, which is identical to a Senate bill filed by Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), provides up to 12 weeks of paid leave at a varying percentage of the employee’s income, to a maximum of $1,000, with job protection.  It will be funded through a trust administered by the State Treasurer that is expected to cost employers no more than seven cents per hour per employee.

The United States is currently one of only three countries, along with Papua New Guinea and Suriname that does not offer some form of paid family leave.  The White House, expecting federal legislation will be slow in coming, has turned its attention to the states on the issue of paid family leave, with a particular focus on Gordon’s bill in Massachusetts.  The White House invited Gordon to a summit last month to discuss the bill and is expected to send a high ranking Labor Department official to Burlington or Bedford to discuss the bill with Bay State businesses.

“Our current law allows families up to eight weeks of unpaid time off for the birth or adoption of a child, but nothing when the worker is compelled to take time off to care for a seriously ill child or parent,” said Gordon. “It does a worker living paycheck to paycheck no good to offer unpaid leave.  That is why the average worker takes less than half of leave time available, and a significant number of workers take no time at all.”

Rep. Gordon testified that the bill is business friendly. It will help his district’s high-tech employers to compete with companies from Silicon Valley, Canada, Europe and Asia. “Many of our companies are compelled to offer paid family leave as an employee benefit either to remain competitive with other companies looking to hire the top graduates from our great schools, or because they feel it is the morally responsible thing to do.  But Massachusetts companies have to fund this benefit entirely on their own, because there is no fund from which they can draw to pay the salary of the employee on leave. This is not fair to our companies.”

Burlington’s Sonia Rollins, a member of the Chamber of Commerce, sees merit in the bill, both as an employee and as a businessperson.

“Because the cost is spread out state-wide, employers who already offer this benefit will see an immediate savings, and those that do not will be able to afford to offer it.  I think it’s the right thing to do for our families,” she said. “What good is time off it does not come with some salary replacement? Many people can’t afford to take it. This bill will address that.”

“Paid family and medical leave would allow workers in Massachusetts to take time to take care of their health or the health of a loved one without fear of losing their job or the risk of financial ruin.”  Said Elizabeth Toulan, Senior Attorney at Greater Boson Legal Services, and a member of Raise Up Massachusetts.

If the bill is reported favorably out of committee, it will then be voted upon by the House and Senate.