Those fighting for Connecticut to adopt a paid family leave law, regardless of the size of the company workers are employed by, got some blunt advice from a lawmaker Thursday on how to kickstart their stalled initiative.
“The squeaky wheel gets the oil,’’ Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, told a group of activists during a roundtable discussion sponsored by the Connecticut Working Families Party.
Porter told the union organizers, workers, activists, and others in attendance that the group needs to do a “better job of framing and messaging” why family medical leave is a good idea that won’t cost employers money and won’t cost lawmakers votes come election time.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated this year that implementing a paid Family and Medical Leave program would cost anywhere between $13.6 million in 2017 and $18.9 million in 2018 to operate through the Department of Labor. That fiscal note ultimately doomed the bill.
But sometimes it’s not about the money.
“Lawmakers worry about having the support of people in their district,” Porter said. “All of us need to work harder explaining why this is a good idea. You’ve got to make your voices known up in Hartford — put a face to the issue.”
In 2011, Connecticut passed the first statewide paid sick days policy in the country, granting workers who worked for companies with 50 or more employees that didn’t offer any type of leave an opportunity to earn paid time off to see a doctor, recover from an illness, or care for a sick child.
Attempts to expand that policy to include more workers who fall under the Family and Medical Leave Act failed to get a vote in this year’s recently concluded General Assembly session.
“We might have been the first to pass a law on this,” continued Porter, “but our state pales in comparison today.”
Since 2011, according to Working Families Party statistics, 31 other cities and states have adopted fairer paid sick days programs. The states of Vermont and California have sick days regardless of the size of the company, Oregon has sick days for firms with 10 or more workers, and Massachusetts has sick days for companies with 11 or more employees.
Meanwhile, Connecticut still is stuck on the 50 or more worker number.
One of those participating in the discussion was Claudina Lara, who said she was fired from her job as a healthcare worker for a small Stratford company last year “because I had to have emergency surgery.”
Lara said her doctor told her, “I needed to rest,” and she subsequently missed several days of work. “When I tried to come back, I was told not to,” she said.
Joelle Fishman, coordinator of the New Haven Peoples Center and longtime community activist, said: “We were so proud when we first passed sick day legislation but look how far we’ve fallen. There is no excuse for that,” she told others at the round table.
Another panelist, Jim Pandarau, who described himself as a “lifelong activist,” implored his cohorts to not give up the fight. “Nothing gets accomplished without a struggle,” Pandarau said.
Lindsay Farrell, executive director of Connecticut Working Families, added: “We’re proud that our win (in 2011) is allowing 200,000 workers and their families to care for themselves or a loved one in need without risking their jobs or paychecks. But too many workers, both in Connecticut and across the country, are still facing the choice between their health and their paycheck.”
Farrell and others on the panel pointed out two recent polls suggested there was strong support, across party lines, for Connecticut to adopt a paid Family and Medical Leave law.
The polls were conducted by AARP Research and the Connecticut Working Families Party.
The AARP poll listed a sample of 1,000 state voters aged 25 years and older.
The results, AARP said, show that 83 percent “support” and 65 percent “strongly support” giving employees an opportunity to contribute to and utilize a limited amount of paid leave from work to care for themselves or a loved one who is recovering from a serious medical condition.
The Connecticut Working Families Party poll said it randomly sampled 400 likely voters from across Connecticut.
Their poll found that 75 percent of voters want the legislature to create a paid Family and Medical Leave program that allows them to contribute to a fund with a payroll deduction. That money would then be used to pay some or most of their salary while they are on leave.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found nearly three out of four employees who take leave are at least partly paid by employers under existing policies, including paid sick time, vacation, and other forms of paid time off. An estimated 287,962 Connecticut workers annually take leave now.
The Connecticut Business and Industry Association has said they are not opposed to businesses providing paid family and medical leave, but don’t believe the state should mandate it. The National Federation of Independent Business says that most small businesses already offer paid time off and mandating it will only hurt small businesses.