Across the country, cities and states are organizing paid leave campaigns as part of a broader initiative to improve job quality and protect the growing number of workers who face losing their job when they need to take time off to care for a family member. In Colorado in particular, nine out of 10 residents don’t have any form of paid leave, meaning that thousands of Coloradans are being forced to choose between caring for a family member or paying their bills. Many employers also lack maternity policies, forcing new mothers to return to work without taking time off to care for their babies.
But this legislative session, Colorado Jobs With Justice and member organization 9to5 Colorado united under the banner of the Caring Across Generations campaign in a fight to give all Coloradans the time off they need time to care for their loved ones. Together, the coalition introduced the Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) Act, which would establish a family leave insurance program to provide employees with 66 to 95 percent of their wages for up to 12 weeks if they have to take leave to care for an ill relative. FAMLI would be funded by employee contributions – $3 per week for a typical full-time worker.
Paid family leave is increasingly important for working members of the sandwich generation, the group of middle-aged Americans straddled between caring for their children and their parents. Tony Burke, a UFCW Local 7 member, took six weeks off to provide hospice care for his dying father. With the leave unpaid, he had to worry about making ends meet while caring for his father. Similarly, Shelbey Ramirez, a low-wage security officer and Colorado 9to5 member, felt the crunch as a family caregiver, saying, “I couldn’t pay rent and ended up with a stack of unpaid bills when I had to take several weeks off to help my daughter recover from surgery while I was caring for my sick, elderly dad.”
Because of the well-funded opposition, the act is stuck in the state senate for now. But bill proponents contend that they have succeeded in bringing these critical care issues out of the shadows and into the public debate and that they set the stage for more job quality campaigns in the future.
“While we’re disappointed we couldn’t pass the FAMLI Act this session, we’re looking forward to collaborating to find a good solution so workers can care for sick family members without worrying about unpaid bills stacking up,” said Erin Bennett, Colorado director of 9to5 and co-chair of Colorado Jobs With Justice.
As workers in Colorado and around the country struggle to get back on their feet, it’s critical that we pass laws that help them succeed and work toward rebuilding a caring economy that works for everyone. If you’re in Colorado, help us build support for paid family leave by signing the petition now: 9to5.org/famlipetition