Workers Would Welcome Paid Family Leaves — Tuesday, February 13, 2007

By Kristen Coppock
BCT staff writer

Workers in this state could soon be paid for taking time off to care for family members.

The law would extend New Jersey's temporary disability insurance (TDI) program to include family leave benefits. This would apply to workers who have a family member in need of care, such as a relative with a serious illness, newborns and newly adopted children.

Currently, workers are able to take unpaid time off to care for family members, but the new proposal would ensure that they continue to receive a paycheck during these leaves. Not surprisingly, the bill is being applauded by workers, family organizations and women's rights groups, and being frowned upon by businesses, especially the smaller ones.

A recent study by Harvard and McGill universities reportedly found that the United States is one of only five countries out of 173 that does not guarantee some type of paid maternity leave. This country's workplace policies toward families, such as paid sick days, workweek length and breast-feeding, also are behind those of other wealthy nations.

There's no denying that continuing to collect a paycheck while taking extended time off from work would be beneficial to any employee. Yes, people should be saving their money for these big life changes and emergencies, but every little bit helps. As taxpayers, we pay into the TDI system anyway.

Small businesses, on the other hand, have reportedly argued that this bill could cause problems for them, since they are more directly affected by employees who take off long periods of time. I sympathize with those mom-and-pop operations because they're not easy to run, especially when so many are put out of business by big corporations.

Both sides of the debate have valid points, but I'm rooting for this bill to pass. My reasoning perhaps lies in my own self-interest, as I'm not a business owner and may want to take advantage of the TDI system some day.

When my grandmother was experiencing serious health problems, my parents spent their days at their jobs and their nights and weekends tending to her needs. Despite some hired help to assist during the day, it was like my mother took on a second, more consuming, full-time job. To say that it would have been an easier time for her if she could have stopped going to her regular job to devote her time to my grandmother would be a gross understatement.

And lately, it seems like there's always at least one friend on maternity leave. The latest is a single mother, who doesn't have the luxury of a husband's paycheck – or child support – to help bridge the gap between her working periods. Thankfully, she has some good benefits through her nursing job and smartly saved money in advance, but her situation is an example of one that would benefit most from this bill.

Most mothers want to spend more time with her children, especially newborns. I don't know of any working woman who didn't take advantage of whatever maternity leave was available after having a baby.

For this generation, even a two-income family doesn't create wealth for most people. It has become necessary for both parents to hold down jobs just to be able to afford housing and cover other basic needs, as well. We do live in a state with high property taxes, a high cost of living and expensive real estate, after all.

Therefore, it must be so tough for a woman to go back to work earlier than the rules say she has to just to be able to pay bills. Paid leaves would certainly make new parents in this state happier and less stress-ed. It would also lessen some of the financial burden on people caring for seriously ill relatives.

This piece of legislation is not without its flaws, but passage would allow workers to better focus their attention on caring for their family's needs and give them a wider range of affordable options.

For that reason, guaranteeing paid family leaves would be a great thing.

Top Top | NJCA Homepage | NJCA in the News