Women workers leading push for statewide paid family leave

Supporters rallied before the Senate’s first committee hearing on paid family leave this session.

Research shows women suffer most from the widespread lack of paid family leave benefits, so it’s no surprise that women workers – and lawmakers – are leading the push to pass a family leave law at the Minnesota Capitol this year.

The measure, which is among organized labor’s top priorities this legislative session, would create a statewide insurance pool to cover the cost of replacement wages for workers who take time off for the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for an ailing family member.

Only 13% of Minnesota workers currently have access to paid family leave through their employers.

“All workers experience illness or a family member’s illness at some point in their lives,” Rep. Ruth Richardson (D-Mendota Heights), the lead House author, said during a committee hearing earlier this month. “Access to paid leave should not be dictated by your gender, the color of your skin, your zip code or whether you work for a large or small employer, nor should it be denied on your job title.”

Richardson and the Senate’s lead author, Alice Mann (D-Edina), modeled their proposal on the state’s unemployment insurance system, with workers and employers paying into a similar fund for family leave “insurance.” Their bill would tap into the state’s projected $17.6 billion budget surplus to expedite workers’ access to benefits.

Minnesotans would be eligible for up to 12 weeks of leave, with benefits averaging two-thirds of their typical wages.

Multiple House and Senate committees already have approved the legislation, with more still to come before floor votes. At each stop along the way, women workers have provided compelling, personal testimony about the legislation’s potential to improve working families’ lives.

Margaret Citta, a high school counselor and member of the West St. Paul Federation of Teachers, appeared before the House State and Local Government Committee 37 weeks pregnant, telling lawmakers she is “living the experience of being a Minnesotan without paid family and medical leave protections.”

School districts in Minnesota do not offer paid family leave, and their lobbyists are working hard to keep it that way. They warn that paying into the fund will strain school budgets, but Citta and other educators counter that paid family leave has been proven to increase staff retention – a major issue facing public schools.

“At its core, the argument that the greater good is for a teacher to be in the classroom suffering instead of taking the time they need to heal and care for their family members is inhumane,” Citta added.

The same goes for all workers, Fairview Southdale nurse Tess Schlicksup told members of the House Labor Committee.

Schlicksup works with critical cardiac patients, and said she regularly sees how lack of access to paid time off prevents Minnesotans from caring for family members in their homes. That, in turn, contributes to backlogs in local hospitals, she said.

“Elderly patients are unable to get adequate support at home and are forced to get transitional care at facilities,” Schlicksup said. “The placement times can take days to weeks, at best, lengthening their hospital stays and really tying up beds for people who have acute needs.”

Dr. Alice Mann is lead author of paid family leave in the Senate.

Schlicksup said she also sees the emotional and psychological strain families face when workers are forced to choose between their jobs and caring for their loved ones.

“Their loved one’s hospitalization requires them to take unpaid time off, so they are stressed about catching up on bills, the impact on their employment and their financial stability,” she said. “It’s vital to ensure that people in our workforce can maintain their own health and wellness while also being able to balance the needs of their loved ones without worrying about losing their employment or having time off.”

When they can no longer maintain that balance, many Minnesota workers without paid family leave benefits – especially women, who lag men in workforce participation by 8% in the state – choose to leave their jobs, according to a report released last month by the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Anne Thayer, a reference associate at the Minnesota Historical Society and member of AFSCME Council 5, told lawmakers she is among those workers being pulled in opposite directions by their jobs and their responsibilities as caregivers.

Thayer has been her 95-year-old mother’s primary caregiver for the last four years, an arrangement that worked well when Thayer could work from home during the pandemic. But recently, her employer required workers to return to the office.

“My ability to continue caring for her has hit the wall,” Thayer said. “I manage for now, but it’s possible there will come a time when the best thing for my mother will be that I take a long break from working and be by her side.

“Without a program like paid family leave, there simply isn’t a way for me to accomplish that and remain employed.”


  1. […] of control over the state House, Senate and governor’s office, improving the chances that legislation creating a statewide insurance pool to extend family and medical leave to workers statew… will pass this legislative […]

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