Exactly one week ago, the D.C. City Council held its first hearing on the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015, a proposal that would create a much-needed paid family and medical leave insurance program that would make paid leave accessible to virtually every worker in the District. Councilmembers David Grosso and Elissa Silverman introduced the bill in October.
After nearly six hours of testimony, a clear pattern emerged: Many of the business representatives who testified made the same specious arguments once used by opponents of the District’s highly successful paid sick days law and similar measures nationwide — that the program would destroy businesses and hurt workers. These arguments ignore an overwhelming body of evidence showing that paid leave is good for workers, business and the economy, as several advocates and small business owners made clear in their own powerful testimony.
Marcia St. Hilaire-Finn, owner of a D.C. child care center, talked about the positive impact offering paid leave has on her employees and how important it is to her as a business owner. “My business provides care,” she explained, “but first, we must be able to provide for ourselves.” She said that even though she does her best to provide a strong policy, her employees can still struggle and many can’t afford to take unpaid leave if they need it. She emphasized that D.C.’s paid leave proposal would help level the playing field for area businesses and provide necessary support for workers.
Similarly, Jacob Feinspan, executive director of Jews United for Justice, which is leading the D.C. paid leave campaign, said that the paid leave benefit his small organization offers has helped it save money over time, and that all businesses — and workers — in the District should be able to reap the same benefits. He shared his own personal experience needing and taking paid leave for the birth of his child and stressed how crucial the first weeks were for caring for both his new child and wife. His was just one of many personal stories shared throughout the day.
Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, emphasized the economic benefits of providing paid leave. “Policies like paid family leave are good for workers who need income and bolster the economy… It’s not just good social policy; it’s good economic policy.” Feinspan echoed those remarks. “You’re going to hear a lot of how the sky will fall when we implement this policy,” he said. “This hasn’t happened.” He cited evidence from the paid leave programs in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island that shows the programs are working well and have widespread benefits.
The D.C. business associations that testified seemed to largely ignore the powerful personal stories and sound business arguments in favor of paid leave that were shared throughout the day, but demand and need for the proposed new policy remains strong. In fact, 80 percent of D.C. voters say they support paid leave. And in the absence of a national standard like the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, thousands of the city’s workers remain at risk of losing their jobs and economic security when an accident happens or illness strikes, which hurts businesses and the local economy.
Last week’s hearing was just the beginning of the fight for paid leave in D.C. Additional hearings are already scheduled for early next year. In the meantime, find out more about the D.C. Paid Family Leave Coalition and tweet your support using #paidleave4DC. If you’re a D.C. resident, you can tweet directly at your council members in support of the proposal at WeTweet.org/DC.