After 30 Years of Unpaid FMLA, Coalition Has Sights on Guaranteed Paid Family & Medical Leave for All Workers
Chicago – Women Employed, which has been creating fundamental, systemic change for working women for 50 years, today convened the statewide Illinois Time to Care Coalition and legislative sponsors of the Family & Medical Leave Insurance Act (HB1530 and SB1234) to urge the Illinois General Assembly to pass legislation that will provide workers with paid, job-protected leave to manage longer-term care needs for themselves and their families.
Sponsored by Rep. Sonya Harper and Sen. Ram Villivalam and supported by a broad coalition of workplace rights advocates, labor unions, and small business groups, the Family & Medical Leave Insurance Act would create a state-run insurance program that allows Illinois workers to use up to 26 weeks of paid, job-protected leave a year.
“At some point, everyone needs time to recover from a serious illness, care for a sick loved one, or welcome a new child,” Sarah Labadie, Director of Advocacy and Policy for Women Employed, said. “The federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which passed 30 years ago, was an important advancement for working families. But that only provides unpaid leave, and not all working people qualify. Thirty years later, 62% of Illinois families cannot take the unpaid leave they need without risking their jobs or their economic security. It’s past time to change that.”
Under the proposed legislation, workers could use their paid, job-protected leave a year for any of the following reasons:
- To welcome a new child into the home;
- To maintain a healthy pregnancy;
- For their own or a family member’s illness;
- For reasons related to domestic or sexual violence;
- For reasons related to military service;
- Due to a public health emergency or disaster; or
- Due to school or child care closures.
“Paid family and medical leave is win-win for Illinois workers and businesses,” Rep. Sonya Harper said. “This legislation keeps workers attached to their jobs when they need to be out of the workplace, and it helps small businesses stay competitive by helping them attract and retain top talent. I’m hopeful all stakeholders can come together to provide this much-needed benefit for our state’s workers.”
Paid family and medical leave has broad public support, according to a recent poll from Navigator: 80% of voters, including 70% of Republicans, 76% of Independents, and 89% of Democrats, support a permanent paid family and medical leave program.
“Comprehensive paid family and medical leave is simply the right thing to do for our workers and our small businesses,” Sen. Ram Villivalam said. “We’ve made great strides by recently passing both a constitutional amendment to protect workers’ rights and sick leave for all Illinois workers that will help tremendously with job retention for our employers. Comprehensive paid family and medical leave is the natural next step.”
Last month, a broad-based coalition of advocates, led by Women Employed, successfully advocated to pass the Paid Leave for All Workers Act, which provides up to 40 hours, or five days, of paid time off for all Illinois workers for any reason. Before passage of this bill, which awaits Governor Pritzker’s signature, about 1.5 million Illinois workers did not have access to this benefit. While the law is a huge step forward, allowing people to manage short-term care needs, it does not provide people with the longer-term leave they need to welcome a new child, recover from more serious illness or injury, or manage long-term care for loved ones.
With a contribution from employers of less than 1% of wages, the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act would allow employees to earn more than half their weekly wage while on leave, with low-paid workers earning up to 90% of their weekly wage.
“Small business owners want to offer paid family and medical leave as a benefit to attract and retain employees, but they need an easy, affordable way to do it,” said Tasha Brown, Midwest Director with the Small Business Majority. “We are glad to support the ‘Family & Medical Leave Insurance Act’ because it will help to level the playing field for small businesses, protect their bottom lines, and boost employee morale by ensuring they have access to paid leave to care for a loved one or manage a medical event.”
The Family & Medical Leave Insurance Act will directly address the gender wage gap, inequitable burdens of care, and families’ savings. In Illinois, mothers are key family breadwinners in 84% of Black families, 49% of Latinx families, and 48% of white families.
“No one should have to choose a paycheck over their health and the health of their families,” said Wendy Pollack, founder and director of the Women’s Law and Policy Initiative at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law. “Lack of paid leave exacerbates existing racial disparities in employment and health care. It’s time we ensure access to a basic workplace right for all workers.”
In addition, the legislation will help support all workers, ensuring that those in non-traditional jobs are able to access paid family and medical leave as well.
“This bill is the necessary response to Illinois’ shifting workforce that includes traditional and non-traditional employment. No matter your job, you should be able to take time off to tend to yourself or your family without losing out on a day’s pay,” said Ugo Okere with Raise the Floor Alliance. “Illinois needs to lead the United States in bringing it into the 21st century and guarantee all workers paid family and medical leave.”
Eleven states and D.C. have paid family and medical leave laws. More information on the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act and a full list of coalition partners can be found here.
Illinois Time to Care Coalition is a collaboration of advocates devoted to securing paid family and medical leave for all Illinois workers. The coalition is supported by organizations and advocates representing labor, small businesses, women, economic justice, early childhood education, lawyers, and more. For more information, visit www.ILTimeToCare.org.
Women Employed (WE) is a 50-year-old advocacy organization that pursues equity for women in the workforce by effecting policy change, expanding access to educational opportunities, and advocating for fair and inclusive workplaces so that all women, families, and communities can thrive. Our mission is to improve the economic status of women and remove barriers to economic equity, and we are working towards closing the wealth gap at the intersection of gender and race. For more information, visit womenemployed.org, or follow @WomenEmployed on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.