Union-backed coalition rallies to get paid leave across finish line

Supporters cheered Gov. Tim Walz, who spoke during a Capitol rally for paid family leave.

Union members, retirees, small business owners and faith-based organizations rallied with Gov. Tim Walz and other lawmakers at the Capitol March 21 in a bid to get paid family and medical leave legislation across the finish line this session.

“Paid family and medical leave is one of the best policies we can pursue to support Minnesota’s families and workers,” Walz said during the rally. “Let’s make it easier for Minnesota families to raise a child or care for a sick or aging relative without putting a paycheck at risk.”

Walz has pledged to sign legislation, advancing through committees in both the House and Senate, that would create a state-administered leave program. Minnesotans would be able to access the program and receive up to 12 weeks of partial wage replacement while recovering from a medical issue, caring for a family member or welcoming a new child.

The paid-leave fund would operate similar to the state’s unemployment insurance system. Employers and employees would share equally in the cost, each contributing 35 cents per $100 of earnings.

UNITE HERE member Leah Riley traveled from Rochester for the paid leave rally with her 8-year-old son, Riley Altom.

Sarah Piepenburg, co-owner of Vinaigrette in Minneapolis, was among small business owners who showed support for the bill, calling it an investment in small businesses.

“I have looked into plans available on the private market, and the best option would cost 50% more than this proposal, offer only 6 weeks off, exclude coverage for cancer and require a health screening,” she said. “In other words, the private market provides unaffordable, substandard options.”

Several labor organizations, including the Minnesota AFL-CIO, are part of a broad coalition of groups that has been fighting for statewide paid leave for nearly a decade, and union colors could be spotted throughout the rotunda during the rally.

Steve Miltich, a retired school custodian and member of the Service Employees (SEIU) Local 284 Executive Board, said many union members are among the 83% of American workers who do not receive paid family leave as a benefit of employment.

“I saw the importance of this firsthand as a union steward,” Miltich said. “Custodians I worked with, for one reason or another, had medical issues with themselves or their families – or with newborn children – and could not afford to take the time they needed.”

Even some workers with access to paid family leave said the state should do better by all workers. Ashlie Kennedy, a state employee from St. Paul, shared a wrenching story of giving birth to a child with a fatal health condition, who died within hours.

Steve Miltich (R), a retired custodian in the Orono school district, said many unionized workers would benefit from the proposed paid family and medical leave law.

“Even though I was expressly told that I met all of the eligibility requirements for paid parental leave, the Judicial Branch denied my request for paid leave stating that the unwritten intent of the policy is for parents to bond with their baby,” she said. “HR confirmed that because my child died, I no longer qualified for paid parental leave.

“Minnesotans should not have to sacrifice their livelihood and financial security in order to care for themselves and the people they love. Minnesota can do better. Minnesotans deserve better.”

After the rally, advocates fanned out across the Capitol campus, meeting with lawmakers and delivering postcards signed by supporters from their districts.

Learn more about the Minnesotans for Paid Family Leave Coalition at paidleavemn.org.

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