Democrats are gearing up to start fighting for mandatory paid leave in the U.S., according to The Hill.
As a survey for the International Labor Organization shows, there are only two countries – the U.S. and Papua New Guinea – that currently do not have mandatory paid maternity leave for employees. While the Obama administration has called for paid leave in the past, it has yet to become a major focus point of the Democrats’ agenda. According to many high-level Democrats, however, that is about to change.
“It’s a big issue in our economy — and if you’re not paying attention to it now, you will be,” AFL-CIO secretary treasurer Elizabeth Shuler said. “2016 will be the year people start making it a pillar of their economic platform.”
While the Family and Medical Leave Act offers time off for maternity leave or illness, it is not mandatory. Only 35 percent of workers in the country are able to take a paid leave for an illness, and 39 percent can be paid for maternity leave. The issue has garnered bipartisan support and has polled well with voters on both sides of the aisle.
“This is something that has bipartisan support,” Margie Omero, strategist with bipartisan firm Purple Strategies, said. “It’s something people can feel an immediate impact from.”
Despite support from Republicans and Democrats, approval from the newly Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely. Business groups, according to The Hill, have also rejected the idea of mandatory paid leave.
“Our members are opposed to it because of real costs — and in a philosophical sense, they’re opposed to it because they don’t want the government telling them what to do,” National Federation of Independent Businesses representative Jack Mozloom said. “A lot of our members say ‘If an employee is sick, I want them to come to me and I’ll work something out with them, but I don’t want the government creating a personnel policy for my employees.'”
Labor Secretary Tom Perez has been a vocal supporter of a measure to require paid leave, calling for legislation during speeches throughout Washington.
“We know that doing paid leave is not an impossible thing — every other industrialized country in the world has found a way to do it,” Labor Department spokeswoman Tania Mejia said.
Influential Democrats like Hilary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren have also been outspoken in their support for paid leave legislation.
“Having a new baby should not be a path to poverty,” Warren said. “And working parents who stay home when they are sick should not have to worry about whether they can pay their bills.”