JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis, and Sen. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis, have teamed up to create a bill to guarantee paid family leave for new parents and working as caretakers for elderly family members.
The Missouri Earned Family and Medical Leave Act would create a fund within the Department of Labor into which employees would pay .25 percent of their salary. Employers could then use that fund to provide full or partial paid leave to their employees – up to six weeks (30 days) each year. Workers could use that time to take care of a new baby or an ailing parent.
McCreery noted at a press conference Thursday that the current federal program does not fit in today’s society where both adults in a two-parent home are working.
“There is a federal program, but the reason it doesn’t work for today’s families is because it is unpaid,” she said. “The vast majority of workers cannot afford to take a day off of work, let alone a couple hours off of work to care for someone.”
Schupp attempted to allay fears about the bill, noting it would not put a burden on the state (only that the state would administer the program) and that it could not be used by employees to take six week long vacation.
“Within the bill, it’s very specific about what you have to provide to actually prove that you need this medical leave even within a given time frame,” Schupp said. “There will always be people who want to take advantage of a system. However, we believe that we have put into this bill those parameters around which someone has to demonstrate their eligibility.
One of the bill’s early allies is NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, and their executive director Alison Dreith noted that it was a bit of a departure from their usual advocacy of abortion rights. However, she did state that NARAL supported paid leave because it allowed women more reproductive freedom in giving women greater control over their pregnancies and hopefully by strengthening families.
“Today, we’re here on a different note, which is … changing the conversation about what reproductive freedom really means for women and when women and families choose to go through with a pregnancy that they have everything available to them to make sure those families are happy and healthy.”
McCreery added that in addition to health families, paid leave could help tighten the wage gap that exists between men and women since women usually take more time off than men for maternity leave, decreasing chances at future job opportunity or salary hikes.
“It is an equality issue,” McCreery said. “We talk about equal pay a lot, and it’s very frustrating because we have a hard time getting employers to pay men and women equally. So, one of the things we’re trying to do is be realistic about how we can impact women and their lives and their families’ lives. And this is a great example of something we can actually have an impact on.”