Gillibrand: It's time to make paid leave available for all workers

By Matt Porter

February 24, 2014 Updated Feb 25, 2014 at 10:59 AM EDT

Owego, NY (WBNG Binghamton) At the Park View Restaurant in Owego, owner Beth Johnson knows her employees can't always make it in.

"I see the struggles in my employees when they have to stay home from work because of a sick parent or a sick child," Johnson said.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited Johnson's restaurant where she announced her new bill, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, providing for temporary paid leave for workers taking care of a loved one.

Johnson's small business alone can't afford to pay her workers who choose to take a day off to care for a loved one and she said the federal program would make it possible.

The program would put a 0.2 percent tax on employer and employee payrolls and set the money aside in the trust fund.

Johnson said pooling resources make the insurance affordable, and the right decision.

"If we need to let our employees be there for their parents or children," she said. "It becomes a community responsibility."

Gillibrand said proving the insurance eliminates the choice of a worker choosing between taking a paycheck and taking care of a loved one.

"Parents, especially moms, know that aching feeling of what it feels like when you can't be at two places at once," Gillibrand said.

The bill would provide up to 66 percent of wages for up to 12 weeks and would be capped at $5,000 per year for all workers.

If signed into law, the bill would replace the current Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which allows for unpaid leave to be taken by most employees.

"When a young parent needs time to care for that newborn child. It should never come down to outdated policies that let her boss decide how long it will take," Gillibrand said.

Gillibrand emphasized the bill's effect on women; she said 50 percent of mothers are unable to take time off to take care of a sick child.

Johnson said providing the safety net is cheaper than hiring new workers at her restaurant.

"If I invest in my employees," Johnson said, "If they have a happy home life, they'll stay with me."

The United States lags behind 178 countries that provide some paid leave for workers.