Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: Dear Manchin: Support paid family, medical leave

by Sen. Stephen Baldwin and Delegate Doug Skaff

As fellow Democratic lawmakers, we appreciate your commitment to advancing legislation that benefits West Virginians. We write to voice our support for efforts to enact paid family and medical leave so no worker has to choose between their livelihood and caring for their loved ones. We urge Sen. Manchin’s support to include paid family and medical leave in the upcoming reconciliation package to help families rebuild stronger than ever, and we urge him to vote for its passage.

As leaders in West Virginia, we know what access to paid leave — or more often the lack of it — has meant for working families and for employers in times of crises.

For the past three legislative sessions, members of our caucus have introduced and championed comprehensive paid family and medical leave bills that would improve the lives of countless West Virginians. Surrounding states have enacted paid leave programs with strong bipartisan support.

We know  states that had paid leave programs in place during the pandemic were better prepared to support workers with critical protections. If national policy had been in place throughout the last 18 months, more lives — and jobs — would have been saved.

As proposed, the paid family and medical leave program would enable employers to offer paid leave to their employees when they need to care for loved ones, and wage replacement for those workers would be made via the publicly funded PFML funds. As a result, employers can use the salary and wages that they would have paid the employee to pay temporary replacement workers, substitutes, etc. Doing so greatly improves employee retention, which also saves employers money. The policy also levels the playing field for small businesses to compete with larger businesses, who have an easier time providing paid leave to their employees.

We represent hard-working people across West Virginia who face impossible choices of how to care for themselves and their families, and we hear from them every day. Small business owners who want to keep their employees healthy and connected to their jobs. Families who are increasingly caring for both children and aging parents without the support they need.

Comprehensive paid family and medical leave would reduce the number of working families in West Virginia facing significant economic insecurity when they need to take family and medical leave by 76%. That’s a big reason why a recent poll showed that more than 70% of West Virginia voters wanted paid family and medical leave included in a comprehensive plan to help families. This is not a partisan issue but a critical protection for economic security and quality of work and life.

Women, in particular, are suffering the most. In West Virginia, there is a 10 point percentage gap in labor force participation between men and women, in large part because of the lack of family-friendly policies. This is a policy that is good for families and the economy — truly a win-win.

Just as the Affordable Care Act that Sen. Manchin championed was a monumental piece of legislation that improved the lives of West Virginians by ensuring people have access to the health care they need, passage of paid family and medical leave will ensure that loved ones can personally care for each other, with job and financial security.

As legislators, we have led our communities alongside Sen. Manchin through some of the most difficult times in our communities’ lives. We have the opportunity now to pass bold policies that will prepare West Virginians for future crises, strengthen our workforce and ensure their quality of life. We urge Sen. Manchin to prioritize passing paid family and medical leave this year.

 Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin (D-Greenbrier) and House Minority Leader Doug Skaff (D-Kanawha) are both members of the West Virginia State Legislature. They wrote this on behalf of their respective caucuses.