Gillibrand stumps for paid family leave law

By John Golden


U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand recently led a quartet of congressional Democrats who appeared at the Purchase headquarters of MasterCard Worldwide Inc. to enlist corporate and working women’s support for a bill in Congress to create a national paid family and medical leave insurance program funded by employer and employee payroll contributions.

Gillibrand is Senate sponsor of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, introduced last month by Democrats in both the Senate and House of Representatives. The legislation has been referred to the Senate finance committee and to the House ways and means committee.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

The self-funded program, to be administered by a newly created office within the Social Security Administration, “doesn’t add a dime to the deficit,” Gillibrand told a receptive audience of state and local elected officials from Westchester County and MasterCard employees, the majority of whom were women, at a Jan. 10 press conference.

For the ninth year, the host company’s paid parental leave, child care and flextime policies in 2013 earned it a place on the 100 Best Companies list of Working Mother Media, whose president also spoke at the Anderson Hill Road headquarters  in support of the legislation. Forty-four percent of MasterCard’s approximately 4,100 employees in the U.S. are women, as are 34 percent of  the credit card giant’s managers and executives, according to Working Mother Media’s 2013 report.

The FAMILY Act bill would grant monthly benefit payments for eligible caregivers, both men and women, to be drawn from an independent trust within the Social Security agency. The trust would be funded by employer and employee contributions that each amount to 0.2 percent of a caregiver’s wages.

“It’s about the cost of a cup of coffee a week,” Gillibrand said. “And for that amount of money, it’s something we should all want to invest in.”

Adopted in 1993, the current federal Family and Medical Leave Act grants unpaid, job-protected  leave to employees of private companies with at least 50 employees and to workers in all government agencies and elementary and secondary schools. But 43 percent of employees cannot afford to take leave because it is unpaid and nearly half of working mothers are unable to take time off to care for a sick child, according to Gillibrand’s office.

New York’s junior senator said only 12 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave through employers, while 40 percent have access through temporary employer-provided disability insurance.

Gillibrand said the lack of paid family and medical leave “keeps some of our best-trained workers out of the workforce. That means it hurts businesses and the economy.”

Beyond political partisanship, “It’s just a common sense idea that makes sense in our economy,” she said.

The bill’s House sponsor from Connecticut, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, told the Purchase audience of her paid medical leave in 1986 after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer while serving as chief of staff to former U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd. Dodd’s support through her recovery was invaluable and much appreciated,  she said.

“That’s the peace of mind that the FAMILY Act provides,” DeLauro said. “You should not have to choose between keeping your job and taking care of yourself.”

Rep, Nita Lowey, the Democrat from Harrison, said the new legislation is “an extension” of efforts by her and other legislators to obtain federal funding for state paid medical leave programs.

Gillibrand spokeswoman Bethany Lesser said the senator “is working now to build bipartisan support” for the bill, which she introduced shortly before Congress went on holiday recess. The legislation has been endorsed by 434 business, labor, church and civic organizations.


About the author

John Golden
The Business Journal’s senior writer, John Golden directs news coverage of the county and Hudson Valley region as Westchester bureau chief. He was an award-winning upstate columnist and feature writer before joining the Business Journal in 2007. He is the author of “Northern Drift: Sketches on the New York Frontier,” a collection of his regional journalism.