Aug. 26 is Women's Equality Day, marking the day that women finally won the right to vote. But we can't really celebrate equality, because we don't have it yet.
One way to get closer to equality is to strengthen the Family Medical Leave Act, which went into effect 20 years ago this month. This groundbreaking law has been used more than 100 million times, helping workers keep their jobs while they care for a family health crisis or a new baby. Unfortunately, because leave under the act is generally unpaid and has eligibility restrictions, millions who qualify for it can't afford to take it, and millions who'd like to benefit from it are excluded.
Teresa Benns, from Del Norte, Colo., is one of the fortunate ones who qualified for the Family Medical Leave Act. As the primary caregiver for her husband, who is a veteran and disabled, Teresa is able to take unpaid leave. But like millions of working people, she can't afford to.
"If I take time off to care for my husband, I don't get paid, and then I get behind on my mortgage and my bills," she says.
We can do better.
The Family Medical Leave Act was meant only as a first step in helping workers handle the dual responsibilities of work and family. To bolster the act, we all need access to paid family and medical leave.
We shouldn't have to worry that we'll be fired or lose vital pay if we stay home when we're seriously ill or when our children, spouse, domestic partner or parents need us at home because they are incapacitated. Nor should we have to pay a terrible price when we give birth or adopt a child, or when a family member in the military suffers an injury.
The benefits of paid leave accrue not just to the employee and the employee's family but also to the employer, who saves money from turnover costs, such as training new employees.
One solution is to offer family and medical leave insurance, with funding coming from very small employee and employer contributions.
Family and medical leave insurance has been passed in California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington. In California, between 89 percent and 99 percent of employers report that the program has had a positive or no noticeable negative effect on turnover, productivity, profitability and morale.
Family and medical leave insurance contributes to stability of families, communities and a growing economy. It's a simple common-sense solution that's good for working families, local businesses and the economy.
Let's pledge to get this done by next Aug. 26, so we'll really have something to celebrate on Women's Equality Day.
Writer Linda Meric is the national executive director of 9to5. She wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.