By John Burbank
Valentine’s Day is tomorrow! Don’t forget your spouse, partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, romantic favorite. And let’s not forget about our kids. That’s the choice that the Legislature will be making in the next few weeks — whether to forget about our youngest kids, or to do right by them.
Here’s a bit of history. In 2007, the Legislature passed family leave insurance. Family leave insurance guaranteed workers that when they had a baby or adopted a child, they could take time off from work to care for that child and receive partial (very partial) compensation. It relieved the burden on employers by funding this leave through an insurance program that all workers and employers would pay into at about one penny for an hour of work. It was a big step forward for Washington’s workers, employers and families. At the last moment, the funding source was stripped out of the bill, with a legislative promise to determine a funding source in the future. One step forward, a half step back.
And then the recession hit, and no one talked about funding. Instead, the Legislature pushed implementation out to 2015. But now some legislators want to ruin this Valentine’s Day for our children. They don’t believe government should have a role in helping citizens balance work and family. They claim to embrace family values, but when it comes to actually enabling these values of love and care, they turn away. So, for example, the Valentine’s Day gift to parents and workers — and their children — from Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, is to lead the charge to repeal family leave insurance altogether. (Sen. Braun’s stance against our government helping citizens is somewhat ironic — his multi-million dollar business of making emergency vehicles depends on government purchases. So 911 calls are A-OK with him. But funding and enabling time for a parent to care for an infant baby is another matter.)
It is a good thing we have some legislators who actually think that government should create programs, funded through the small contributions of workers themselves and their employers, that enable citizens — all citizens, not just the well-off ones, to realize our American values of work and family. These legislators are also hard at work in Olympia. Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood, and Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, along with Reps. Mike Sells, D-Everett and Ruth Kagi, D-Shoreline, and Sens. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, and Nick Harper, D-Everett, have developed legislation to fund family leave insurance and to cover workers when they can’t work because of a serious off-the-job illness or injury.
These legislators have figured out a way to protect workers from the bad luck of illness and injury. Plus they have figured out how to enable workers to cherish and care for their children in the first months of life, not distracted by the fear of losing their jobs and having no income. The cost is covered by a one-tenth of one percent payroll premium, from both employees and employers. That comes out to about 80 cents a week for a worker making $20 an hour. We as workers will fund our own family leave insurance. And then we all know that when we need it, when we have a new baby or adopt a child, or when we are seriously ill or injured, we can rely on family leave insurance to help us pull through. Our backs — all of our backs — are covered.
We talk about building the middle class. This bill goes right to the heart of the middle class. With this legislation, we enable children to get a strong start in life, cared for by their working parents. We enable parents to focus on their new children, without worrying about losing their jobs. And we enable families to balance their bills, thanks to the partial compensation of family leave insurance. Family values, work and family and love, hold the center of American values, at least so we say. This legislation makes family values real. It is a great Valentine gift … from all of us to all of us.
John Burbank is the Executive Director of the Economic Opportunity Institute (www.eoionline.org). He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org