Advocates for paid family leave promote issue at screening

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Residents and advocates gathered Saturday morning for a discussion promoting the benefits of paid family leave, following the screening of a documentary highlighting the trials faced by many Americans who cannot afford to take time away from work to care for themselves or their loved ones.

The community screening was hosted by MomsRising, an organization that, according to its website, “takes on the most critical issues facing women, mothers and families by educating the public and mobilizing massive grassroots action” and featured the documentary “Zero Weeks,” a film inspired in part by director Ky Dickens’ discovery that her company did not provide paid medical leave following the birth of her child.

“Every day, Americans make the unconscionable choice — do I go back to work or take the time to heal?” Dickens said.

North Carolina lawmakers recently introduced a bill to provide paid family and medical leave in the state, and Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order providing paid parental leave for state employees.

Currently, only 12 percent of North Carolina’s workers benefit from paid family leave to bond with a newborn child, care for a sick family member or for their own health. And many people eligible to take unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act cannot afford to take unpaid time off.

According to North Carolina senior campaign director of MomsRising, Beth Messersmith, the United States is the only developed nation without a paid leave policy and one of only two in the world, the other being Papua, New Guinea.

Congressman G.K. Butterfield offered remarks following the film screening focusing on the data supporting his efforts to pass the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which would ensure paid leave for working Americans to care for themselves or a sick family member.

“There is no issue that is more important than protecting families,” Butterfield said. “Less than 40% of Americans have personal family leave. That’s not paid medical leave; that’s just personal medical leave where you can go to your employer and take time off for medical reasons. That’s just unacceptable.”

MomsRising state campaign director, Tina Sherman, said in the panel discussion of leaders and advocates in the fight for paid family leave that their group is working on the local, state and federal levels to increase the number of people who have access to this benefit.

“We have the sample policies, and we have the data to say, ‘This is what it looks like; this is how it’s impacted the communities that have implemented it since 2016,’” Sherman said.

Sherman said the group has worked with 17 city and county governments across North Carolina to give paid leave to its employees and is in talks with several more about establishing the policy.

However, Messersmith said there is a lag in eastern North Carolina, including Wilson, where those discussions have not taken place.

“Other than New Hanover County, we don’t have any eastern North Carolina wins on local paid parental leave or local paid family leave policies,” said Messersmith.

The organization is urging people to contact their local, state and federal lawmakers and share the personal impact of not having paid medical leave on themselves and their families via the shortened link https://bit.ly/2McVDSS.