Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Beware of false choices on family leave insurance

The moral and ethical bottom line of family leave insurance is clear: No one should have to risk their job to care for a loved one; nor put loved ones at risk in order to keep a job.

But opponents of the idea are not fond of talking about the hard choices facing working families in Washington State, instead preferring to obscure the issue in false choices between business profits and family health/economic security.

Washington’s minimum wage law is a great example of such misdirection. A voter initiative, it was fought tooth-and-nail by business and restaurant lobbyists before its passage in every county in the state. Since then, it has (as the New York Times notes) actually improved Washington’s business climate:

“We’re paying the highest wage we’ve ever had to pay, and our business is still up more than 11 percent over last year,” said Tom Singleton, who manages a Papa Murphy’s takeout pizza store here, with 13 employees.

New workers make the Washington minimum, $7.93 an hour, but veteran employees make more. To compensate for the required annual increase in the minimum wage, Mr. Fazzari said he raises prices slightly. But he said most customers barely notice.

He sells more pizza, he said, because he has a better product, and because his customers are loyal.

“We used to have a coupon, $3 off on any family-size pizza, and we changed that to $2 off,” said Mr. Singleton. “I haven’t heard a single complaint.”

Ellen Bravo points out that family leave opponents are using the same old refrains in an effort to undermine the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

To put it bluntly, such arguments just aren’t “reality based” – there is a large body of evidence showing that paid family leave helps businesses profit from lower turnover and training costs, reduced absenteeism, and higher productivity, loyalty, and morale.

Absent those arguments, count on opponents of family leave insurance to ignore protections for employers in Washington’s new law while missing the big picture and generally grasping at other straws.

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