Pass Paid Family and Medical Leave Now

Joe Ramlet, opinions editor

Now that the Democrats control all three governmental bodies at the State Capitol in St. Paul — the House, Senate and the Governor’s Office — many sweeping changes previously stalled in the Republican-led Senate are expected to pass in the coming months. One such proposal is paid time off from work for family and medical leave. If it becomes law, all Minnesotans would have up to 12 weeks each for their own medical needs and caring for a family member at 90% of their regular pay.

This is beyond overdue. The United States is an embarrassment in the global arena as one of only a handful of countries in the whole world without a right to paid parental leave, which would be covered under this proposal, as well as other medical or family needs. Eleven other states have already passed some sort of paid family and medical leave, and there’s no reason Minnesota shouldn’t be at the front of the pack when it comes to this.

Critics say it’s too expensive and the decision should be left up to individual employers with state incentives. And they’re not wrong — it is expensive. But what’s far more expensive is the actual money spent and the opportunity cost of lost revenue by not providing for safe and secure jobs when someone is facing illness or needs to care for their family. It costs far more money to go through the hiring process and onboard new employees than to just pay an existing employee a portion of their salary for the time they’re gone. And since it certainly does require a hefty upfront cost, there’s no better time than now, when we can use some of the state’s $17.6 billion budget surplus to kickstart the fund.

Currently, both Minneapolis and St. Paul require earned sick and safe time for all employees within city limits. For every 30 hours worked, an employee earns one hour of paid time at 100% of their normal pay rate that they can use to take off work for medical needs, caring for a family member or safety needs in cases of family or partner violence. While it’s not much, it’s better than nothing. To attract and retain young employees — in other words, stopping them from fleeing their small hometowns to work in the Twin Cities — rural communities must embrace the state’s paid family leave proposal.

Besides making economic sense, it’s just the right thing to do. The current system disproportionately impacts low-wage, hourly workers who are already more likely to be members of traditionally marginalized communities. People who continually have to take time off work for medical needs lose out on wages and often lose their jobs. And by building paid leave into the system, it takes negotiating out of the picture — which not only helps those who traditionally lack bargaining power in the workplace but also men. Gender roles have upheld men as the breadwinners and necessitated working over caretaking, but under the new law, space will be held to both care for others and work on healing themselves, which is crucial given the male mental health crisis.

People deserve equal opportunity to health and wellness and to care for others. There is absolutely no reason one of the richest countries in the world should be in the healthcare disaster we are in, and Minnesota should take care of its people like it always has before. There’s no better time to pass this proposal with the DFL trifecta at the Capitol and a record-breaking state budget surplus to initially fund the program. We must do it to ensure the health and wealth of all members of our communities, not just those that have been historically and generationally favored through discriminatory and racialized practices. The time is now, Minnesota.