I have been fighting for paid family and medical leave in Colorado since day one. As someone who has been personally impacted by our lack of paid family and medical leave and who has fought to change this for seven years, I understand the frustration of this fight and the urgency to pass a policy. But this year’s proposal is not strong enough to help people like me.
The need for this benefit has touched my life many times, including, after the birth of my child. When my son, Jacob, was born, he was in the NICU for the first weeks of his life. I returned to work three days after giving birth because my job as manager was through a temp agency, and I was told I would lose my job if I was not at work that Monday. Me and my best friend were my son’s only caregivers at this time, and took shifts being by his side and going to our jobs. Years earlier, this same friend received an HIV+ diagnosis. Unfortunately, with no family to show up and comfort him, all we had was our close friendship and each other.
Under the current proposal, my best friend and I would not have qualified for paid family and medical leave. When I took care of him, we did not have a “familial” financial dependence on each other. When he took care of me, I was a temp worker that classified me as a 1099 employee. We were barely making ends meet and I don’t think I would have been able to afford to save the money I needed for leave, or pay a high premium through an insurance company. But both times, we were the only ones willing and able to take care of each other. We were not family but we became family, and we are still family now.
Like us, many in the LGBTQ community rely on non-relatives in times of need. A financial relationship may or may not be there, but this is our chosen family, a network of mutual love and support. Communities of color, young adults, seniors, immigrants, and many low-wage workers are excluded from this program because of the definition of non-relative family that relies on financial dependency or the 6-month waiting period requirement that will effectively deny these workers this benefit.
Colorado workers need paid family and medical leave. It’s this need that has driven me over the past seven years to attend every rally, committee hearing, and press conference; to be a spokesperson of the movement, allowing my story to be shared in the press; why I sit on the national Paid Leave for All table and am part of an impacted worker advocacy group. I have been in the trenches of this issue and am saddened that this proposal is moving forward without addressing the needs of our most vulnerable workers and leaving my own family out.
In Colorado, we cannot settle for creating a program that will benefit the advantaged while leaving behind the already marginalized. Those who say something is better than nothing should remember that in 1993 we passed FMLA as a stepping stone to something better. But in the past 27 years, we have yet to see what that is. FMLA is an unpaid, federal job protection law that only 40 percent of the workforce is eligible for.
Colorado cannot fall into the same trap. If we pass this inequitable program, how will we ensure that eventually, everyone has access to paid family leave? Or will we just leave marginalized people behind as part of a “compromise”? We need to pass something that is equitable for all Coloradans, not just the lucky few. If this law is the best we can do then we aren’t doing enough.
I sincerely hope that you consider the people who will be excluded from this program over the insurance companies who will profit from it. As you work on this measure, I urge you to find a way to include as many people as possible under this plan and to make sure we build a Colorado that lifts up all workers.
9to5 Colorado Board Member