5 Best Moments from House Paid Family Leave Hearing

Categories: The Insider

No one should have to choose between their paycheck and caring for their family.  

If you share that pro-family, pro-union value, then the hearing on June 24 by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on paid family leave was an encouraging sign that we are making progress toward becoming the society we want to live in – one where employers empower workers to thrive professionally while providing needed support to help us take care of our families, especially when disaster strikes.  

The coronavirus pandemic, which brought medical disaster to hundreds of thousands of American families, has underlined the need for a permanent paid family leave benefit. Now is the time to make it happen. And as the country’s largest employer, the federal government should lead by example, be a model employer, and show its employees – and all other American workers – that their services to our country is appreciated.  

For those who are pro-family, a bill that was the subject of the hearing – H.R. 564, the Comprehensive Paid Leave for Federal Employees Act – is a no-brainer. It would give federal workers 12 weeks of paid leave to care for seriously ill or injured family members, to tend to an employee’s own serious health condition, or to address issues stemming from a family member’s current or recent military service. 

AFGE was delighted that the committee held this important hearing on this important matter. We are proud that our very own National President Everett Kelley also testified at the hearing.  

We have over a thousand congressional hearings a year, but this one – you don’t want to miss. You can watch the whole thing here

If you can’t watch it all, then check out the 5 best moments from the hearing:  

1. Committee Chairwoman Maloney schooled her ranking member, who said paid family leave is just a perk  

In her passionate response to Ranking Member James Comer from Kentucky, who is against this pro-family bill, saying that guaranteeing workers' pay when legitimate family emergencies arise is just a work perk, Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney said she doubted that women living in Kentucky think having a child is a perk.  

“It is not a perk. And too many of us have been fired – fired, thrown out of the room, told not to come back because you dare to have a child. Many women have sick children, and when they’re sick they need their mother. If your child is traumatized, if your child is sick, what’s wrong with giving them paid leave to be with them?” she asked. “We both know that most women have to work, most families depend on two incomes. They can’t make it on one income.” 

“This is not the perk we’re talking about. My brother was in Vietnam. When he was deployed, it was traumatic to his family. They would have liked to have been with him. They would have liked the time to adjust for three small children when he was sent to the war zone. Deployment of our military is serious business. It’s not a perk. It’s a crisis in most families.”  

Watch the exchange here

2. A small business owner shared a heart wrenching story about why his company gives employees paid family leave 

Eric Sorkin, co-owner and Chief Executive Officer of Runamok Maple, a 75-employee company that makes maple syrup in Vermont, shared the moment he and his wife decided to give employees paid family leave and why we need a paid family leave program so small business owners don’t have to choose between profitability and their employees’ well-being. 

“At the time we had just 10 employees. I had learned that the wife of one employee was losing a battle to terminal cancer. This happened in the middle of a sugaring season when the hours are long and unpredictable. Our employee had been coming to work in the middle of this terrible family ordeal because he wasn’t in the position to miss a paycheck or risk losing his job. Put succinctly, he couldn’t afford to spend time with her even though he desperately needed to.” 

“In that moment, without even realizing it, we launched our company’s paid family leave policy. We told our employee to take the time he needed to care for his wife, and we continued to pay for him while he was out. Even with our small team it wasn’t an even remotely hard decision. Nobody, least of all those in the most precarious financial positions, should have to choose between getting paid and taking care of their loved ones or their health.” 

“Likewise, why do we embrace a system where small business owners feel as though they must choose between their profitability and the well-being of their employees. It’s a recipe for poor choices and bad outcomes on both sides.” 

Sorkin and other small business owners in Vermont are involved in a state campaign to push for a paid family and medical leave program where employers pay into a fund, which will then be used to pay employees who need to take paid family leave. That would help lessen the burden on the employers who will now have enough money to hire a replacement when that employee is out on leave.  

3. AFGE President Everett Kelley showed how opponents of the bill are missing the point 

Kelley said people who oppose this bill because they believe federal workers have enough paid leave are missing the point of paid family leave.  

“It is the unpredictability of the circumstances when paid family leave might become necessary that is the reason for the benefit. Telling a federal employee not to use sick or annual leave because of the possibility of medical disaster striking a family member ignores the very reasons paid annual and sick leave exist in the first place,” he explained.  

“I have heard stories from VA nurses, civilian defense employees, correctional officers, social security claims adjusters, EPA attorneys and meat inspectors taking care of elderly grandparents, parents, children, and spouses. These hardworking civil servants provide care for loved ones suffering from agent orange exposure, cancer, traumatic brain injuries, and the consequences of accidents that no one saw coming.” 

“Opponents have raised objections to the cost of providing paid leave to federal employees. CBO last estimated the cost for the 2010-2014 period, so we do not know exactly how much it would cost today, but we estimate that it would be minimal compared to the cost of hiring and training new employees due to turnover due to lack of comprehensive benefits.” 

4. Congressman Gerry Connolly argued paid family leave would make the federal government a model employer 

While several Republican members of Congress rudely interrupted the hearing with shouting and irrelevant commentary, arguing aggressively with Chairwoman Maloney that this issue shouldn’t be a priority that Congress should discuss, Connolly heroically took the floor and explained calmly why federal workers deserve paid family leave. 

“I’m saddened by the attempt to somehow distract us from the subject of this hearing,” Connolly quipped. “Health and families meet the demand of family care giving responsibilities. Comprehensive Paid Leave for Federal Employees Act, H.R. 564, continues our committee’s effort to support civil servants and their families.” 

“Paid family leave would ensure the family the government is the model instead of laggard in protecting families and our employees who work so hard, especially during this pandemic, on behalf of the American people. They aren’t bureaucrats. They are dedicated public servants.”  

5. AOC made a point that spending time with our families should not be a matter of charity 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York shared that when she set up her office, she decided that new mothers and fathers would be offered three months of paid parental leave, and that policy has been successful.  

“Having time with our families should not be a matter of charity or profitability,” she said. “Deciding on having paid leave and the decision and the ability to have paid leave is not about how good or charitable your employer is. It’s not about whether they’re a good person and it shouldn’t be about how profitable it is for a business. It should be about the importance of value of family and human beings, and these are rights for us.”  

“And parents, mothers, fathers, the human development of children should not be decided by how profitable that leave is for business. It should be a right afforded to all parents and all people and all human beings.” 

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