By Michael Bellmore
Surrounded by the many businesses that fill the Hamden Plaza, U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3, gathered alongside workers and activists to bring attention to Connecticut’s leading role in worker protection programs, and the work that still needs to be done.
Teresa Younger, executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, said her commission worked on the family medical leave act that passed in the state decades ago, which became a model for its federal equivalent.
“Connecticut is at the forefront of this whole conversation about how do you build on programs that promote family friendly workplace policies,” Younger said.
The law allows people to take leave for the birth of a child or to care for a sick family member. A worker can take up to 16 weeks of leave and be protected under the law. Unfortunately for many, that leave is unpaid.
DeLauro said the conference was about moving forward and trying to make that law work better for those who need it.
“The law has been so successful, over 100 million people have taken advantage of it,” DeLauro said.
“It’s unpaid at the moment. … Today, 8 out of 10 cannot avail themselves of the Family Medical Leave Act because they just can’t afford to be out of work for a period of time without getting paid.”
Younger said her commission is taking a leading role in trying to change that. It is involved with the Task Force for Family Medical Leave Insurance, which was passed by general assembly and tasked with exploring the possibility of creating a system where one could pay into an insurance plan and draw from it when needed when taking extended leave.
She said represented in this task force are businesses, insurance companies, private individuals, and nonprofit organizations.
Younger said, “We’re starting to ask the questions, what will it take to have that system in Connecticut, how much should it cost people, what are the barriers of putting something like that together?”
For some, though, paid, extended sick leave isn’t the issue, any paid sick leave at all is.
Samuel Velez works at Dunkin’ Donuts and doesn’t have paid sick days.
“I need paid sick days because it helps with the bills and taking care of my child,” Velez said.
“I am balancing school and full-time work and missing paid time because when I am sick makes it more difficult for me to help out at home and provide for my family.”
Recent legislation in Connecticut demands that businesses that employ 50 or more workers must provide paid sick leave.
Younger said her commission recognized the need for paid sick leave. She said state workers have good benefits, but even in her own office, co-worker Justine Palm juggles caring for her aging parents and the days off she has available to her.
Younger said, “Every day I look in the faces of men and women who understand and are being challenged with how they balance all the responsibilities. Connecticut has been at the forefront, but Connecticut state workers have also been at forefront of testing out what benefits we need to have on the books, and how those benefits should be offered to every single employee in the state of Connecticut, whether they work for the state or not.”