He's a family man
The 14 best days of my life were the ones I spent with my wife and newborn son and, two years later, with our baby daughter. For a week after each arrival, I stayed home from work, changed dirty diapers, got no sleep and cherished every minute.
No father should be denied the chance to get spitup on his shirt, and bond with his kids. Yet all too many workers miss critical family moments because they just can't afford to skip paychecks.
Federal law gives most workers a right to 12 weeks of unpaid leave when a baby arrives or when a close family member gets seriously ill. But that law doesn't help pay the rent or put food on the table.
This is why the Working Families Time to Care Act is an idea whose time has come. Under the labor-backed proposal - as improved by Gov. Spitzer - people staying home to cope with family emergencies could collect disability benefits equal to half their pay, or up to $170 a week, for as many as 12 weeks.
This is no free lunch. Workers would have an estimated 45 cents a week deducted from their paychecks to cover the cost. But it's a small price to pay for a lot of peace of mind.
"At the lower end of the financial ladder, people really do have to choose between their family's physical well-being and their financial well-being," Terri Gerstein, Spitzer's deputy labor commissioner, told me. "If we can ameliorate that even a little bit, that's good."
If the proposal becomes law - as seems likely - New York would move to the cutting edge of family-friendly states. California adopted a paid family leave law in 2002 and Washington followed suit this year.
Internationally, however, the United States is way behind the curve. Researchers at Harvard and McGill universities reported this year that the U.S. was one of only five nations, out of 173 studied, that did not provide some guarantee of paid maternity leave. That puts the wealthiest nation on the face of the Earth in the same bracket as Lesotho and Liberia.
To business leaders nervous about opening the door to a new mandate, the California experience should be reassuring. Both the number of workers claiming benefits and the overall cost have been less than originally expected, state officials report.
Business leaders also should thank Spitzer for shielding them from the cost of the program. As originally proposed by the Working Families Party and the AFL-CIO, the bill called for employers to eat the higher premiums. Spitzer rejected that approach and went with a social insurance model.
That was the right thing for the governor to do. Businesses don't need another reason to avoid New York. And lawmakers who think the benefits are too skimpy won't be so tempted to give away the store if they know they're hitting every single working man and woman in the pocketbook.
Instead, Spitzer is essentially asking folks around the office to chip in for the woman who's about to have a baby, or the guy whose father just had a stroke.
People like Carol Hart-Alexander of Jamaica, Queens, who wanted to spend as much time as possible with her terminally ill mother in the mid-1990s. She and her siblings used their vacation time to keep vigil. But if her mother had lasted much longer, Hart-Alexander says, she would have had to go back to her job at the phone company. A leave was not an option.
"I was a single parent," she said. "No way I could have taken time without pay."
That's a situation no New Yorker should have to face.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Daily News 5/22/2007
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