Opinion: Michigan Needs Paid Family and Medical Leave in 2024

Photo by Rapeepong Puttakumwong/Getty Images

By Sen. Erika Geiss, Jessie Ulibarri

November 30, 2023

In an exclusive op-ed for the ‘Gander, Michigan Sen. Erika Geiss and former Colorado State Sen. Jessie Ulibarri argue that Michigan needs to pass paid family and medical leave into law in 2024.

If we’ve seen one thing this year, it’s that Michigan’s working families know how to fight for a better future. From autoworkers to Blue Cross Blue Shield and casino workers, we have seen our people show up for one another in the face of corporate power. But we mustn’t abandon workers once strikes end. With costs remaining high, and the end of federal childcare funding putting us on a “child care cliff,” working families need even more solidarity in the fight against the growing strength of corporate interest groups. 

Our best demonstration of solidarity with Michigan workers right now is to make sure no Michigander ever loses their job for being sick or caring for a family member with an illness. 

As a current and former state legislator, we know that no one should have to worry about losing their job for putting their health or their loved ones first. The United States is one of just six countries on Earth and the only high-income country that doesn’t guarantee workers paid time off to care for a loved one or welcome a new family member. 

Lacking paid leave puts too many Michiganders at risk. Indeed, 77% of Michigan workers currently lack access to paid leave and 63% of Michigan workers remain without federal protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act. 

Unfairly, the lack of these protections is most devastating for workers of color. More Michiganders – and the legislators who represent them – must join the fight to help working families when they need it most, by rejecting corporate lobbying and making paid family and medical leave a reality in our state.

Despite a full 81% of us supporting guaranteed paid sick time (including even the Chamber of Commerce’s own members, who overwhelmingly support paid leave), lawmakers backed by the Chamber of Commerce and other corporate interest groups are putting profits over people and are standing in the way of workers and guaranteed paid leave policies. The Chamber of Commerce, which has spent $50 million dollars this year on federal lobbying alone, is fighting against us both nationally and locally. But by making employment law a policy priority, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce is showing its cards: they know paid leave is a real possibility in our state. 

The good news is that Michiganders can stand up to corporate power. Sadly, despite Governor Whitmer’s call for our state legislature to guarantee paid leave for workers, we haven’t achieved it yet. But our governor has shown us before that she can step in where federal policy can’t, having announced a $2 million investment in childcare after the federal child tax credit ended, in part due to deep-seated corporate interests

The child tax credit worked, and paid leave is another opportunity to prove that we can put progress for people over politics. Paid leave supports economic growth, reduces reliance on public assistance, and even improves business productivity.

Another reason we know we can achieve paid leave in Michigan is because we know we’re not alone. Champions in other states are proving it is possible: lawmakers in 13 states and the District of Columbia have now enacted legislation enabling workers to take paid leave to recover from a serious illness, to bond with a new child, or to provide care to a family member with a serious illness. Champions in Michigan such as Mothering Justice and the broad coalition they have built and increased over years of advocacy also know that it’s a necessity and a possibility.

The State Innovation Exchange (SiX) stands alongside legislators across the country to make paid leave a reality. More recently, SiX has analyzed the strategies of the legislative champions and advocates who passed these bills in a Playbook on Winning Paid Family and Medical Leave that summarizes the lessons learned to help workers, families, and their representatives stand up to corporate power in all 50 states. 

The playbook shows that we need a fundamentally different approach to power in politics so we can defeat corporate opposition to paid leave. We need strategies rooted in trust and collaboration, not competition; that lean toward liberation, not oppression; and, in the end, we need to change the how of policy if we want to meaningfully change the what of its outcomes. Those who have already achieved paid leave in their states help to show us how.

Next year, we must do everything in our power to make paid leave a reality in Michigan. Michiganders are honest, hardworking, family-oriented people. They deserve the right to care for their families, from the first moments of a child’s life to the last moments in the life of a loved one, without sacrificing their livelihoods and the ability to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. It’s time we listen to Michigan’s workers and their families. We must heed the fierce urgency of now and embrace answering this call for economic justice.

Authors

  • Sen. Erika Geiss

    Michigan Sen. Erika Geiss represents Michigan’s 1st Senate District and is the Assistant President Pro Tempore of the Michigan Senate and Chair of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus.

  • Jessie Ulibarri

    Hon. Jessie Ulibarri is a former Colorado State Senator, the original sponsor of the Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) program in Colorado, and is the current Co-Executive Director of the State Innovation Exchange (SiX).

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