On Tuesday, March 23rd, nearly 200 companies sent an open letter to Congress, urging them to pass a federal paid family and medical leave program in the Biden administration’s next COVID-19 recovery package. That companies are now behind a program that would help parents ostensibly take time off is no surprise — if you’ve been paying attention.
Over the past year, the tides have turned when it comes to the conversation around paid family leave in the United States. Paid leave is no longer a fringe policy position or a great nice-to-have policy pipe dream for America’s progressives.
As a matter of fact, the pandemic has revealed that the government can just send people money, give parents monthly allowances to help them raise their children, and provide emergency government-funded federal paid leave, even if just on a short-term basis.
What Federal Paid Family Leave Means For Workers And Businesses
These policies are enormously popular, they are also not permanent. President Biden and Vice President Harris have signaled their support for a federal paid leave program in the past, and now, a critical mass (see: nearly 200) of major companies across the country are now urging Congress in an open letter to enact legislation that would finally make federal paid leave a permanent reality and asking other companies to sign on with them. (Full disclosure: Fatherly also signed the letter.)
The reasons that the companies do support paid leave are obvious. Corporate leaders, clearly expressed in the letter, see paid leave as a critical pathway to economic recovery, one that will help working parents, and particularly working parents of color, thrive in the workplace and gain wealth while being able to take the necessary time off they need to take care of themselves, their children, or other family members. And that same paid leave will help companies retain talent and save money. And, indeed, the pandemic has simply revealed how little the government provides for its workers.
How Paid Family Leave Slows COVID
“The pandemic has exposed an acute emergency on top of an ongoing, chronic crisis,” the letter, co-signed by nearly 200 companies alongside the Paid Leave for the United States (PL+US), reads. “At the onset of the pandemic, fewer than 17 percent of workers had access to paid leave through their employers. Lack of a national paid leave policy makes all of us more vulnerable during this pandemic and for future public health emergencies, while putting the financial stability of businesses on the line.”
Research has revealed that paid leave programs at the beginning of the crisis helped limit the spread of COVID-19. (It also helps people keep their jobs and weather emergencies intact.) But, of course, it’s not just about the pandemic. It’s also about life itself: the ability for new parents to take time off when they have a baby, or family members to take care of their sick relatives.
The Rest of the World Has Paid Family Leave — And Is Better For It
These companies have also pointed out, should the United States emerge from COVID-19 without a federal paid leave program, they would be one of only two countries in the world with absolutely no form of paid leave at all. They noted that a federal paid leave plan is a bipartisan one — 8 in 10 Americans support a national paid leave policy and businesses largely want one too.
The businesses, they say, “agree that a national paid leave policy would help them be better positioned to weather future public health emergencies and economic crises.” And they point to the evidence: “Access to paid leave also leads to better retention, personal health, and improved morale, which contributes to greater stability and viability for our businesses, ultimately helping our bottom line. In short, paid leave is good for business.”
It’s A Great Way to Support Working Parents And Their Employers
Pointing to the fact that a national paid leave policy would help address issues of economic and racial inequality in the United States — as well as be a way to address compounding issues of disparate health outcomes and the lack of access low wage earners have to workplace supports — the letter ends with a simple call to action: “When families thrive, we all thrive.”
“The pandemic transformed the politics of paid leave, and the massive surge in business support for leave we see in this letter is one of the surest signs we’ve seen of that fact so far,” Annie Sartor, PL+US’s Senior Advisor for Business Partnerships, told Fatherly. “The COVID crisis allowed millions of Americans to see how broken our care infrastructure has been for years. This letter makes it clear that the business community isn’t just ok with federal action on paid family and medical leave, they want Congress to act right now.”
For some people who have been working in the paid leave advocacy space for decades, these revelations — that paid leave is good for both workers, good for them as parents, good for businesses, and public health as a whole, and help both parties gain and retain wealth and employment — is nothing new.
But to have companies from Pinterest, to Patagonia, to Levi’s, to Discord, to Honest Company, Bad Robot Productions, Spotify, Once Upon a Farm, Salesforce, Hello Bello, Goop, Amalgamated Bank, and Rothy’s, among literally more than a hundred others at a total valuation of more than $539+ billion, to call in such a high profile way for Congress to finally pass a federal paid leave program, is nothing short of a massive tide turn. Hopefully, Congress is ready to act.