- Quinn Malter
Massachusetts Provides a Roadmap for Paid Family and Medical Leave in Maine
The Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston has released a case study that presents an in-depth look at the development of Massachusetts’ statewide paid leave program, supported in part by Mainers for Working Families.
During the 2021 legislative session, policymakers established a commission to develop a statewide Paid Family and Medical Leave program here in Maine. Its members include bipartisan legislators from both chambers, corporate and small business representatives, and health and labor experts, who are currently working together to develop a PFML program that is unique and attuned to Maine’s needs.
“When we’re out talking to Mainers about the challenges they’re facing… we hear these heart-wrenching stories from workers who got sick or are welcoming a new baby into the world, or they had to care for an ill family member, but they couldn’t afford to miss a paycheck,” said Evan LeBrun, executive director of Mainers for Working Families, in a recent press conference. “We also hear from many of Maine’s small business owners about how much they’d love to provide for their workers this kind of time but just can’t find a way to afford it and still keep the lights on.”
“As a business owner, a legislator, and a young woman who would one day like to start a family, Paid Family Leave is an issue that has been important to me for years,” said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Mattie Daughtry, who sponsored the bill that created Maine’s Paid Family Leave commission. “There’s no question that our workers and businesses and economy need this Paid Family Leave policy, the question is… what will this policy look like?”
The study of the Massachusetts program demonstrates how states can effectively implement robust paid family and medical leave programs through legislation and collaboration between businesses, workers, and grassroots activists. The policy passed with bipartisan support in Massachusetts. Republican Governor Charlie Baker signed the program into law, with the program going into effect on January 1, 2021.
The report found that the benefits of paid family and medical leave helped not only workers, but extended to businesses large and small: “Businesses experience cost-savings and other benefits such as enhanced employee engagement, productivity and morale when workers can take paid leave to address family and medical needs…evidence shows that alleviating barriers to participation in the economy is good for families, good for firms, and good for the economy.”
“[M]y son Henry was in the NICU, he was 3 lbs, 12 oz,” said Ellie Lisa, founder of Paid Leave for ME. “I remember mothers being in the break room of the NICU and just complaining how their child was going to be in the NICU for their entire maternity leave. By the time they brought their child home they were going to have to go right back to work because they could not afford unpaid time off.”
“I think it’s a national embarrassment that we don’t have Paid Family and Medical Leave in the wealthiest country in the world… A step we can take toward righting this wrong is getting a statewide program in place,” said Wells Lyons, General Counsel at Rogue Industries in Standish. “We’re a small business and we do offer Paid Parental Leave for our employees, but it isn’t nearly enough, we offer what we can afford… because we can't offer the same benefits as larger companies, we’re really at a competitive disadvantage.”
The commission tasked with developing the program in Massachusetts, which had a similar composition to that in Maine, was notably effective in its approach to the process: “As one interviewee reflected, ‘sometimes the differences between proponents and opponents of a policy are smaller in practice than they can appear when you're in campaign mode and that getting people in the same room working in good faith can be effective at figuring out what the actual concerns are and whether they can be addressed’.”
“For decades in Massachusetts, concerns from the business community stopped paid leave bills in their tracks. However, once a group of labor and business leaders was convened by legislative leaders, and they began to trust each other, it became clear that a workable program was indeed possible” said Dr. Laurie Nsiah-Jefferson, Director the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at UMass Boston.
The United States remains the only developed nation without a paid family and medical leave policy.
The report is authored by the Center’s Priyanka Kabir, Laurie Nsiah-Jefferson, Christa Kelleher, Lillian Hunter, and Cassandra Porter.