Mothering Justice campaigned for paid family leave policies Republicans gutted in 2018. Photo courtesy Mothering Justice.
Mothering Justice campaigned for paid family leave policies Republicans gutted in 2018. Photo courtesy Mothering Justice.

Mothering Justice, a group of Michigan moms based in Detroit, is launching a statewide week of action to restore a family leave policy Republicans gutted.

MICHIGAN — A mother in Metro Detroit found out her job did not provide paid maternity leave. She took only four weeks off work to bring her child into the world. 

“It was a burden for us,” Danielle Atkinson told the Oakland County Times.  “We were able to manage, but it was the impetus for us. What are people doing when they can’t do it?”

In 2012, she founded an organization of mothers looking to promote financial stability: Mothering Justice. That group kicks off a week of action centered on paid family leave Tuesday. 

A Week of Action on the Gutting of Paid Family Leave

Starting that week on Tuesday is significant, Mothering Justice explained. 

“The purpose of the week of action is to recognize the week of Sept. 8, 2018 as a day that the Michigan Legislature took the original version of the paid sick leave bill and gutted the original language,” the group wrote on their Facebook event, #MIPaidLeave4All – Week Of Action. “Over the next week we will be holding a town hall, A Zero Weeks viewing, encouraging our members to tweet and takeover Facebook by sharing videos of the joint sign-on letter to education and advocacy forums to educate the community and push paid sick leave forward in Michigan.”

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The organization referred to a Republican-led strategy from legislators in Lansing to adopt proposed ballot initiatives on the minimum wage and paid leave ahead of the 2018 election.  This prevented them from being voted on by Michiganders and allowed them to be amended to dramatically scale back the scope of that legislation.

As a result, Republicans succeeded in dodging the ballot box and significantly watering down proposals Michiganders supported. Democrats widely criticized this “Adopt and Amend” strategy, and Mothering Justice is working to undo the damage it did to Michigan’s paid leave proposal.

But Mothering Justice also has allies in Lansing, including state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia). 

“I first started working with Mothering Justice through Michigan United,” Pohutsky told The ‘Gander. “We have a lot of the same interests, we have a lot of the same priorities … They are very, very dedicated to making sure that women, particularly women of color, are brought to the table. They’re a fantastic group.”

Those common interests extend to the week of action Mothering Justice launches Tuesday, following on the heels of new legislation Pohutsky introduced last week. 

“A Mom is a Mom is a Mom”

In addition to working to restore the paid family leave proposal Lansing Republicans kept off the ballot only to gut in 2018’s highly irregular lame duck session, Pohutsky is working to expand paid family leave to those who adopt as well as those who have traditional childbirths. 

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“I actually have a friend who had a child via surrogate, so it was technically an adoption. She was fortunate, her employer did allow her to go on maternity leave, but that was in question,” Pohutsky explained. “Watching someone that I care deeply about having to navigate that in the midst of everything else involved in bringing a child home, particularly in cases where the child needs a little bit of extra attention, was something that made me realize this was an issue we needed to tackle.”

Pohutsky said that her friend was left in that unsure space because Michigan’s paid leave laws do not cover adoption, which is what her situation was classified as. But her legislation aims to address not just the gap that that parent experienced, but also the ways the current way of thinking of paid family leave misses an entire swath of moms.

“A mom is a mom is a mom,” said Catherine Birndorf, a perinatal psychiatrist who deals with emotional and psychiatric issues that arise before, during, and after pregnancy on Today. “I think we need to respect the many, myriad ways in which women become mothers, or people become parents. We have to respect the many ways it happens.”

And there’s as much need for adoptive parents to spend time with their kids after adoption regardless of the child’s age. As Pohutsky pointed out, it isn’t only infants who need care and time when adjusting to a new environment. 

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“You might be bringing home a toddler or a six-year-old who needs to acclimate to this new environment and everyone needs to get familiar and comfortable with this new family unit,” Pohutsky explained. “I think it’s incredibly important that we’re able to provide that for folks.”

Mothering Justice is working with legislators like Pohutsky and the organization #MIPaidLeave4All to encourage Michiganders to sign their petition to restore paid leave for Michigan families.