Black Michigan mothers continue call for paid family leave legislation

By: - February 3, 2023 5:30 am

Uleana Thompson, Mothering Justice member, and her family. | Thompson family photo

As the 30th anniversary of the seminal federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) nears, African American Michigan mothers and caregivers on Thursday shared their experiences and called for state paid leave legislation. 

“Paid leave helps parents be more responsive to their children,” said Christina Hayes, a paid leave organizer at Mothering Justice, a Detroit-based nonprofit. She joined mothers during the mid-day virtual news conference. Hayes said that Mothering Justice is working with state lawmakers on legislation to address the issue. 

“Paid FMLA is still out of reach for too many families,” Hayes added. “Paid leave should not cost you your job.” 

One issue is pay inequity. Black mothers are paid considerably less than white men, according to U.S. statistics. The average Black woman in the United States who works full-time, year-round is typically paid only 63 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.

Last month, a Michigan Court of Appeals decision overturned a July ruling by the Court of Claims that rejected 2018 changes made by Republicans in the Michigan Legislature to weaken minimum wage and sick leave laws. 

The original paid sick leave initiative would have garnered workers an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, while the amended version upped that to 40 hours and restricted it to businesses that employ at least 50 people.

However, the GOP-led state Legislature approved two ballot initiatives, thus keeping the issues off the 2018 ballot, but then went in months later and watered down minimum wage and sick leave provisions. The case is expected to be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

On Feb. 5, 1993, Democratic U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the FMLA that required employers with at least 50 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to an eligible employee for any of the following reasons:

  • the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
  • the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
  • to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
  • a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;
  • any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty;” or
  • twenty-six work weeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness who is the spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin to the employee (military caregiver leave).

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted paid family leave laws, according to the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center. They are: California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington. Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Oregon enacted laws not yet in effect.

State Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) speaks at Mothering Justice’s “Mama’s March” on June 15, 2022. | Photo by Anna Gustafson

State Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) has supported FMLA legislation as a public policy course of action and has participated in a recent White House briefing with state lawmakers from across the country. State House Reps. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac) and Helena Scott (D-Detroit) also attended. 

State Innovation Exchange, a nonprofit organization that collaborates with state legislators, conducted a 2022 survey in Michigan with EPIC-MRA and found overwhelming support for paid family leave.

The major finding was that 81% of respondents supported “allowing Michigan to join with other states in creating a state level paid family and medical leave law that would permit workers to receive time off to care for a seriously ill family member, or to care for a new addition to their family.”

Uleana Thompson, a Mothering Justice member and catering business owner, has had medical challenges with Lupus. Her husband has FMLA with his employer but it is unpaid time, she said. He cares for her when she is ill. 

“It stresses me to see my husband trying to figure out how to bring… in a stable income,” said Thompson. “My spouse is my caregiver.”

Prayer Jackson, another Mothering Justice member and a mother of five children, declared, “The time is now for paid family leave.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.

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