In today’s divisive political environment, we can all agree upon the critical importance of supporting our families and local businesses. We also know that throughout our state and our country people are struggling to afford having children and caring for themselves or their aging family members.
This widely recognized predicament needs to be addressed and fixed.
That is why we are working collaboratively with Paid Leave for the United States (PL+US) to create high-quality paid family leave that will help everyone.
Garrett comes to this issue as a Republican who has worked for Jeff Sessions, Laura Ingraham, and the Maine Republican Party. Andrea is a Democrat who has worked for the Maine Education Association, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the AFL-CIO.
We both strongly agree on the need for paid family leave. We are hardly alone. In the US Senate, Republicans and Democrats are working on paid family leave legislation. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, Marco Rubio, R-Florida, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, and others are planning to introduce legislation to advance paid family leave this year.
In our home state of Maine, Democrat Speaker of the House Sara Gideon has a paid family leave proposal that will be moving through the legislative process. Recently some, but not enough, Maine Republican legislators have also shown interest in moving the issue forward.
If we do it right, creating a paid family and medical leave system will ensure families can afford to take time off when they need it and businesses will thrive. When Maine employees are stronger, Maine businesses are stronger, Maine families are stronger, and as a result of that our great state is stronger.
In a recent report, Work in Progress, PL+US found a fast-growing number of large employers across the country are providing increased access to paid family leave. For example, L.L. Bean has boosted its paid maternity leave to 12 weeks. That will make a huge positive difference in hundreds of lives in Maine.
Employers are making these changes because they know it is in their self interest to do so, and in so doing they are reducing costly employee turnover while improving employee morale and productivity. This enriches their entire businesses, financially and spiritually.
States, meanwhile, have also been passing and implementing legislation creating paid family leave programs based on a social insurance model, which is the approach PL+US supports. Creating a social insurance program, similar to unemployment insurance and social security, can make it affordable for businesses, both large and small, to help themselves and their employees when the time comes.
A social insurance program for paid family leave would cover employee wages at a reasonably set amount and duration when an employee has a serious illness, has a new baby, or needs to care for a seriously ill family member. While an employee is on paid family leave, the employer can save that money or use it to hire temporary help.
We have also spoken with small business owners across Maine who want to provide this benefit but who cannot afford to do so on their own. Nationwide 70 percent of small-business owners support creating a paid family leave insurance pool. A social insurance model for paid family leave would level the playing field and help small businesses compete with large employers.
The widespread agreement we have here means this issue should be discussed and debated in a meaningful, bipartisan way. People want action on it.
No politician or private citizen has a monopoly over the truth. Too often Republicans attack Democrats for being Democrats, and Democrats attack Republicans for being Republicans. That is not American, that is not progressive or conservative, and that is not productive.
Let’s have a dialogue about all of our challenges, including the need for paid family leave. Let’s reach consensus and begin healing our political wounds. Let’s borrow a page from Aretha Franklin and have “a little respect” for each other again.
Andrea Zuniga, a Democrat, has worked for the Maine Education Association, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the AFL-CIO. Her husband, Garrett Murch, a Republican, has worked for Jeff Sessions, Laura Ingraham, and the Maine Republican Party. They live in Mount Vernon.