June 05, 2007

Testimony on Paid Family Leave Legislation

Source: Alan Lubin, Executive Vice President

Testimony of Alan B. Lubin, Executive Vice President, NEW YORK STATE UNITED TEACHERS, Regarding PAID FAMILY LEAVE LEGISLATION

INTRODUCTION

Good morning.

I am Alan Lubin, Executive Vice President of the New York State United Teachers.

NYSUT is a statewide union representing more than 585,000 members. Our members are pre-k to 12th grade teachers, school related professionals, higher education faculty and other professionals in education and health care.

Thank you for the opportunity to address you today concerning several different pieces of legislation that have been proposed by the Executive, as well as members of both the Senate and Assembly, which, if enacted, would provide many working families with access to paid family leave benefits. NYSUT would also like to thank you for taking the time to move this issue forward for open discussion in a public forum. NYSUT believes that this issue warrants a full discussion from all sides so that an agreement can be forged that will benefit not only working families but their employers and the communities in which they live and work.

DISCUSSION

Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993:

In developing a statewide mechanism through which to deliver paid family leave benefits, it is important to take into consideration the experiences of workers and employers with regard to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. While the FMLA represented an important first step for our nation in addressing the growing economic and social stresses on working families, the United States remains one of the few industrialized nations around the world that, as a matter of national policy, fails to provide some type of paid maternity leave. Moreover, the United States is one of the few industrialized nations that similarly fails to provide for paid leaves of absence for employees to care for ailing loved ones or for themselves.

Under FMLA, workers at companies with over 50 employees are eligible to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth of a child or care of a newborn, the adoption of a child, to care for an immediate family member with a serious illness, or to take medical leave for a serious health condition of their own. This statute, while it does not afford a paid leave component, is superior to the leave provisions in many nations in that it does specifically apply to:

  • Fathers of new, adopted or ill children;
  • Workers who have serious illnesses; and
  • Workers who need to care for other family members with serious illnesses.

Despite the positive elements currently contained in the FMLA statute, there are serious limitations that also need to be addressed, including:

  • Providing compensation to affected employees so that their families can make ends meet;
  • Providing basic job protections to workers who utilize paid family leave benefits; or
  • Recognition of domestic partnerships.

I. Effect of FMLA on Employees:

In 2000, The U.S. Department of Labor conducted a follow up survey report to their 1995 base line report to evaluate the FMLA program on workers and businesses . The survey polled 2,558 U.S. residents who (1) took leave from work for a family or medical reason; (2) needed leave but did not take it; and (3) other employees who neither took nor needed leave. The data compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2000 indicates that covered employees have a very positive view of the program.

One-sixth of all employees or 16.5% took leave for a family or medical reason in the 18 months preceding the survey. The median length of the leave of absence was 10 days and over 90% of leaves lasted 12 or fewer weeks. The most common reasons given for why employees took a leave of absence was: (1) their own health (47%); (2) to care for a newborn, newly adopted or newly placed foster child (17.9%); (3) to care for ill parent (11.4%); (4) to care for an ill child (9.8%); (5) for maternity or disability (7.8%); or (6) to care for an ill spouse (5.9%).

Furthermore, workers indicated that the ability to take a leave of absence had a positive effect on: (1) their ability to care for family members (78.7%); (2) their own or their families emotional well-being (70.1%); (3) their own or their families physical health (63.0%); (4) their ability to comply with doctors instructions (93.5%); and (5) their ability to recover more quickly from illness (83.7%).

The most troubling issue raised from the survey for policymakers is that 77% of covered employees who needed to take a leave but did not take it, did not take it because they could not afford to take a leave of absence.

II. Effect of FMLA on Employers:

Interestingly, data compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2000, which included a survey of 1,839 private business establishments, indicates that employers have a generally positive viewpoint of FMLA from the perspective of productivity, profitability and job growth.

  • Productivity:84% of covered employers reported that FMLA had no noticeable effect or had a positive effect on business productivity;
  • Profitability:90% of covered employers reported that FMLA had no noticeable effect or had a positive effect on business productivity; and
  • Growth:90.3% covered employers reported that FMLA had no noticeable effect or had a positive effect on business growth.

Over 97% of covered employers indicated that the most common method of dealing with the absence of workers on leaves of absence was to assign it temporarily to other existing workers. Aside from reassigning work to existing employees, 41.3% of employers indicated that they hired a temporary worker.

New York State

NYSUT believes that the time has come for the State Legislature and the Governor to come to an agreement on legislation to provide reasonable but meaningful paid family leave benefits to workers who need to care for ailing loved-ones, to rear their children and/or care for their own health issues. To that end, however, many NYSUT locals across this state, working with their employers in the bargaining process, have already negotiated some paid family leave benefits. NYSUT strongly believes the collective bargaining process must be recognized and protected in any final product.

The bills currently under consideration would establish a paid family leave program within the temporary disability system under Article 9 of the Workers' Compensation Law. NYSUT believes that this concept is workable, provided that the safeguards in the temporary disability system designed to protect employees are also functional for employees utilizing the paid family leave program.

In order to affirm and maintain existing benefits achieved through collective bargaining and to insure maximum coverage opportunities for workers not currently covered, NYSUT believes that the following components must be incorporated into any legislation being considered for enactment into law:

(1) The legislation should require that private and public employers provide paid family leave benefits to their workers;

(2) The legislation should provide the right for the recognized collective bargaining agent to accept or reject inclusion in the program based on the current collective bargaining agreement;

(3) The legislation should provide benefit availability beyond the traditional relationships recognized under current law;

(4) The legislation should make clear that any cost pass-through from employers to employees be a mandatory subject of collective bargaining.

CONCLUSION

NYSUT feels that any legislation that recognizes and adheres to these principals will work to reduce unnecessary stresses on our health care system, provide employees with a bridge to gap financial shortfalls due to child responsibilities or other familial circumstances, and, most importantly help and strengthen working families. To that end, NYSUT applauds your efforts, those of the Executive and the many other legislators that have taken the time and made the effort to address this issue. NYSUT stands ready to work as a partner in moving a comprehensive and meaningful resolution to this problem forward at the earliest possible opportunity.

I appreciate the committee's time and attention to this important issue and I would be happy to answer any questions that you might have concerning this issue.