Paid Maternity Leave
I am an ardent supporter paid sick leave for US workers. The United States is one of only 4 countries world wide that offers no sort of paid leave for maternity, medical illness/treatment or to care for an ill family member. While most of us will agree that the United States offers unparalleled employment opportunities, it is shocking and disturbing that the US does nothing to support its workers when they or those they love fall ill.
I suppose with so many workers to choose from, there is no incentive to be loyal to employees. The US unemployment rate is still over 7% and there are many people willing to work for wages well below what they are worth and take jobs well below their skill set in order to simply secure a job and meet the needs of their families. It’s a very precarious work environment.
But I am still baffled as to why employers are so averse to supporting their employees. According to the Center for American Progress, when an employee who earns $50,000 per year leaves a company-regardless of whether they leave voluntarily or are asked to leave-the cost to replace that employee is approximately 20% of that person’s annual salary. In the US, approximately 75% of the workforce earns $50,000 or less annually. Likewise, if the employee earns $75,000 per year and leaves, the employer again has to spend approximately 20% of that employee’s salary or roughly $15,000 to replace that employee. Now considering that 9 out of 10 employees in the United States earns less than $75,000 annually, this can have substantial ramifications if a company has a high turnover rate. The Center for American Progress notes that the cost to replace a worker who makes less than $30,000 annually is slightly less, approximately 16%, yet lower waged service workers are often those with the highest turnover as they seek to increase their annual earnings. And not surprising, the cost to replace an executive or professional employee can be as high as 213% of the employee’s annual salary! Wouldn’t it simply make sense for employers to offer their employees better benefit packages that included health benefits, paid time off and flexible working schedules?
This is a situation that I closely watch for Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond. Many, many mamas have contacted me and my colleagues distraught because of mounting debt and job loss due to being placed on prescribed bed rest. As a result, I do what I can to advocate for paid family leave including presenting cases to Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) with my friend, colleague and the Executive Director of Better Bedrest Joanie Reisfeld, supporting the Paid Medical Leave Initiatives advocated for by the National Partnership for Women and Families, Working Mother Magazine and MomsRising and educating women and families about their leave options. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, To date:
The Portland City Council voted unanimously to approve an ordinance that will let tens of thousands of workers in Portland earn the paid sick days they need. The bill is awaiting signature from Mayor Hales, making the bill law, and making Portland the fourth city to provide paid sick days.
The Philadelphia City Council, once again, approved a similar measure that would guarantee Philadelphians the same right. Hopefully Philadelphia Mayor Nutter, who vetoed the paid sick days bill in 2011, will take a second look and sign this common sense proposal.
Laws are already in place and working well in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Seattle and Connecticut. And there are dozens of efforts to advance similar proposals across the country, including in New York City, Massachusetts and Vermont.
Given the economic benefits to companies and the benefits to working families, paid medical leave just makes sense. We Mamas on Bedrest know this, economists know this, advocates know this and yet the fight continues. Hopefully corporate CEO’s and lawmakers will evaluate the data and see that paid medical leave just makes sense. As the Center for American Progress noted,
“This brief documents that the cost of employee turnover for businesses is high, regardless of the level of wages being paid to the departing or incoming employees. Companies typically pay about one-fifth of an employee’s salary to replace that employee. While it costs businesses more to replace their very-highest-paid employees, the costs for most employers remains significant and does become less significant for those with low earnings.
Workplace policies that improve employee retention can help companies reduce their turnover costs. Family-friendly policies such as paid family leave and workplace flexibility help retain valuable employees who need help balancing work and family. For example, research has found that access to any form of parental leave makes women more likely to return to work after giving birth. Moreover, by 2050 up to 20 percent of Americans will be older than age 65, and improved leave policies would allow workers to provide the care their elderly parents may need without having to sacrifice their livelihoods.”
I was just cruising through my e-mails and got a Google alert about Family Medical Leave (FMLA). The article, published on Journalgazette.net, chronicles the story of Danelle Buchman of Clarkesville, MD. Buchman lost her job as a result of being out, and nearly dying, giving birth to her second daughter.
Buchman, now a mama of 2 little girls, had a uterine artery rupture while she was pregnant with her second daughter at 32 weeks gestation. Her daughter was delivered by emergency c-section and Buchman had an emergent hysterectomy to save her own life. When Buchman recovered and returned to her job, she was first demoted and given a 33% salary cut. She was subsequently fired. It’s not that Buchman had done anything wrong, quite the contrary. She had an outstanding employment record. But her time off due to illness resulted in her termination.
This is not unusual. The US Department of Labor conducted a study and they found that 40% of employees are not eligible for the unpaid leave with job protection benefit offered by FMLA. While this law has been on the books for 20 years now, a full 40% of US employees cannot benefit from it because they work for companies that employ fewer than 50 employees, were employed for less than a year with the particular company or had already used the FMLA benefit within the past 24 months and are hence exempt from the FMLA provisions. So Buchman who was out fighting, for her life, was legally fired as a result.
The law is also very difficult to enforce. Companies are not always obligated to allow the unpaid leave and there have been nearly 6000 court cases against companies that fired workers or otherwise penalized them for taking advantage of FMLA.
Once again, The lack of any sort of paid family leave is leaving families in a financial lurch. It is a travesty that the United States has such little regards for families. The United States, along with Papau New Guinea and Swaziland remain the only countries out of 177 that offer no sort of paid parental medical leave. And while family friendly organization such as the National Partnership for Women and Families and Working Mother are fighting diligently for paid family leave, that reality is still, by many estimates, years away. And that won’t help people like Buchman.
“I was lucky. My husband had a job, and we went into crazy credit card debt. But so many people who don’t have the support system I had are one accident, one illness away from losing their livelihood.”
And that is the fearful fate of many Americans. We can do better and we here at Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond will continue to support and help those on the front lines continue this all important fight.
I went to vote today, early, and was surprised that I had to wait in line for about 20 minutes before casting my ballot. They say that this year’s presidential election is going to be one of the tightest in history. The margin of victory is likely to be the smallest every. Every vote counts, so Mamas on Bedrest, make your voice count-VOTE!
Now I know that some of you will be put off by the fact that I am making a “political statement” on what is “supposed to be a health care information website”. Well, as they say, the personal is in fact political. What occurs in this election will have far reaching implications for all Mamas on Bedrest. This election is about more than who will be president and who will run congress. As it relates to Mamas on Bedrest, the following issues are up for grabs:
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA): The United States is the only “industrialized” nation that offers no paid time off for workers to care for their own illnesses, a family member who is ill or to have/bring home/bond with a child (through birth or adoption). The FMLA only provides workers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave with guaranteed job security, i.e. no job loss. After those 12 weeks, employers are free to fire employees and at no time are employers obliged to offer any sort of paid leave. While some employers will offer some paid time off, it varies from employer to employer and dramatically from state to state. What is typically uniform is that workers in the lowest paying jobs-often those who need their jobs the most-are at the greatest risk of losing income, financial security and their jobs. If you would like to see FMLA changed, see the work of the , and FamiliesMomsRising and WorkingMother Magazine. Also, VOTE and let your elected officials know that this is an issue that is important to you!
Mandatory Obstetrical Care: Now I can hear some of you saying, Whaaaaat???? Yup, many of our mamas became pregnant only to find out that obstetric care is not part of their health insurance policy and care had to be purchased (prior to pregnancy of course!) as a separate rider on their health insurance policy. So imagine the strain that this places on the family finances when mama has a complication requiring her to be on bed rest? Yes, I think you get the picture. The Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) covers obstetrical care. If you think that this is a good thing, VOTE accordingly.
Education: The Department of Education has been targeted for budget cuts as well as complete closure. While our public schools are having their problems, without them, many children will be without any sort of education. Regardless of whether your children (or prospective children) will go to public, private or homeschool, education is an important element for our nations citizens. Voice your VOTE accordingly.
Healthcare Research: The National Institutes of Health grants millions of dollars annually to researchers studying a wide variety of health issues and diseases. Wouldn’t it be great if they allocated some additional funds for research on high risk pregnancy prevention? The federal government in part determines what gets studies by where they allocate funds. If you want more research and treatments for the conditions leading to bed rest, VOTE, make your voice known and let your elected officials know what is important to you.
Medicaid: Thousands of women are uninsured and receive their health care by the government subsidized program Medicaid. While the care is definitely not at the level of private obstetrical care, it is prenatal care none the less; prenatal care that many women would otherwise not have access to and be at increased risk of pregnancy complications, preterm labor, preterm birth and a premature infant with potentially life long health complications. While I agree that the Medicaid program leaves much to be desired, it is providing some benefit. Additionally, it’s a lot easier to fix a broken system than to try to get a whole new system entirely. If you don’t believe me, ask the women of Mamas of Color Rising here in Austin. They worked with several concerned groups and presented a rules change to the Texas Medicaid. The rules change is still being deliberated, but if it passes, Texas women receiving Medicaid will be able to receive prenatal care from and be attended by certified professional midwives, and those midwives will be reimbursed by medicaid. Mamas of Color Rising has also help start a free prenatal health clinic. To learn more about Mamas of Color Rising, listen to this podcast interview with co-founder Paula Rojas.
These are just some of the issues that come to mind when I think of Mamas on Bedrest. I am sure that there are others, and do correct me on any thing that I have left out or you feel misrepresented. However, don’t miss the point of all of this-VOTE!
I want to end this post with something to think about. In the late teens and early 1920′s, thousands of women took a stand and demanded the right to vote. Some of them were beaten, many were arrested and many even died so that we now have the right to vote.
In the 1960′s, African Americans were the next sub segment of the US population to demand the right to vote. (without absurd, extraneous requirements and qualifications). They marched, they were attacked by dogs, they were drenched by fire hoses and many died in the cause of the Civil Rights act. When I think of all that so many Americans have gone through so that I have the right to vote, it seems beyond disrespectful to me that I wouldn’t show up at a local voting center and cast my ballot.
But I’m on Bedrest! No worries. Here’s a few ways that you can vote.
Stop by and vote early on the way home from your next OB visit (If it’s on or before November 6th). Since it’s probably your only outing of late, see if you can extend it a bit and stop by an early voting center. The grocery store at which I voted this morning even had chairs for those unable to stand and a voting booth that had a chair and sat low enough for those in wheel chairs.
Absentee Ballot. Here in Texas, you have until tomorrow to request and absentee ballot. The cut off is likely different in different states, so contact your state’s voting board and see if you can still obtain a ballot. In some areas, someone can pick up the ballot for you. Most places will mail you a ballot. Absentee ballots typically have to be in to the election officials by the close of the polls on voting day, so if you intend to vote absentee, get your ballot ASAP and get it in to your state election officials. (Note: someone can also hand deliver your ballot for you! Check with your local officals.)
Ladies, I’m not telling you who to vote for, but I am sharing with you some issues important to Mamas on Bedrest. The bottom line is that you need to vote. This is not the year to sit things out because you are on bed rest. You can and should still vote. In an election where the margin of victory is estimated to be mere points, every vote will certainly count. So “stand up” and be counted. VOTE!
Image Courtesy of Brian Petty Designs.