Members of the Michigan Progressive Women’s Caucus introduced a package of bills in both the Michigan Senate and House on Wednesday looking to help Michigan women rejoin the workforce after a disproportionate number of women left their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legislation comes as the COVID-19 pandemic lowered workforce participation for women to levels not seen since 1988, as the Advance previously reported.
In a press conference Wednesday, state Rep. Kyra Bolden (D-Southfield), who introduced House Bill 5348 aiming to provide paid time off to women and their partner while experiencing a miscarriage, said the package will address women’s work issues that existed before the pandemic hit. An identical version of Bolden’s bill was introduced in the upper chamber, Senate Bill 660.
“My colleagues and I have witnessed the shortcomings in the workplace that predominantly affect women,” Bolden said. “These problems have long existed and have only gotten worse with the pandemic. … The way we think about miscarriages needs to change. Women are expected to push aside their feelings and pretend they’re not experiencing a traumatic loss and that is especially true in the workforce.”
At the start of the pandemic in April 2020, Michigan women faced a 26.3% drop in employment while men faced a decline of 23.3%. Part of this can be explained by the fact that women dominated the food services and education industries, which were impacted by shutdown orders. About two-thirds of women of color in Michigan either lost their jobs or had their work hours cut due to COVID-19 in a survey released in 2020.
Women also took on the bulk of household responsibilities and helped students navigate online learning. An estimated 44% of women nationwide said they were the sole member providing care in the household when daycare and schools were closed down, according to a report from the Center for Economic and Social Research. Only 14% of men said the same.
A 2018 Harvard Business Review study found that a 10% increase of women in the workforce translates to a 5% uptick in wages for all workers.
The package of bills introduced in the House (HB 5344–5350) and Senate (SB 0657–0663) also aim to address paid family leave after birth, adoption and miscarriages; family leave plan disclosure requirements for businesses; and equal pay.
State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) said her bill, House Bill 5347, will establish paid family leave for adoptive parents who she said are “often overlooked.” The Senate version is SB 661. She said the package as a whole will update legislation to ensure families can take care of their children without repercussions at work.
“The women in the workforce package of bills introduced yesterday will put legislation in place that provides the support working women need to reenter the workforce and help improve Michigan’s economy,” Pohutsky said. “Modern families have evolved, and it’s time our legislation catches up to meet the needs of people today. This is just one way we can provide support for families as they begin the next chapter in their life.”
Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Twp.), who introduced House Bill 5344 mandating employers disclose their family leave policies to current and prospective employees, said her own experience of not qualifying for her employer’s family leave policy led to her introducing the bill. The Senate version is SB 0657.
“When looking for a new job, the benefits an employer offers directly impacts an employee’s ability to join the workforce,” Brabec said in a statement. “No expecting parent should ever be blindsided by their employer’s family leave policy. Being transparent about family leave has real financial and familial consequences, and full disclosure of these policies are crucial in helping employees navigate their personal and professional life.”
House Bill 5349 and Senate Bill 0662 also hope to ensure equal pay for similar work done in the workplace. In Michigan, white women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, while Black women make 62 cents, Indigenous women make 57 cents and Latinx women make 54 cents.
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