'Closed for paid leave': More than 70 businesses nationwide shut doors on day of action

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(NEW YORK) — More than 70 businesses across the country shut their doors Monday in a show of solidarity to call for federal paid family and medical leave.

The day of action coincided with Women’s History Month, highlighting the value of investing in women in the workforce.

“This is an action meant to signify the value of women’s underpaid, unpaid care and work, and to show what will happen, a symbolic look, if more women are pushed out of the workforce because the United States does not pass paid leave federally,” said Dawn Huckelbridge, founding director of Paid Leave for All, the campaign behind the day of action.

Currently, there are no federal laws in the United States that require employers to provide paid days off. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2023, just 27% of civilian employees — private industry and state and local government workers — had access to paid family leave benefits.

The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, entitles some employees to unpaid family and medical leave, up to 12 weeks within a 12-month period. According to the BLS, 90% of civilian employees had access to unpaid family leave in 2023.

Universal paid leave was on the table at the federal level in 2021 with the Build Back Better Act, which passed the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate.

While the Paid Leave For All Campaign calls for federal paid leave for all employees, the campaign has pushed for family and medical leave to support mothers and parents in particular.

Jeanelle Teves, chief commercial officer at parenting solutions company Bugaboo, was among those whose companies participated in Monday’s day of action. She said it was her own experience as a new mother coming into the corporate workforce that informed her passion for creating a supportive environment for parents in the workplace.

“My hope on a greater scale is that every parent has access to that — that financial security and really that time off as they ease into parenthood,” Teves said. “My goal on a deeper level is that this empowers more women to stay in the workforce and to believe that parenthood and motherhood will not come as a compromise to their career.”

Huckelbridge said that there are still some disparities in access and use of paid family and medical leave for women of color. She said that federal paid leave could help address such issues.

According to a 2011 BLS survey, Hispanic and Black non-Hispanic workers were less likely than their white non-Hispanic counterparts to have access to paid parental leave, with 35.7% of Hispanic workers and 42.5% of non-Hispanic Black workers having access to paid parental leave versus 44.7% of white non-Hispanic workers.

“Our economy has been held up by women, particularly women of color, and yet it is women and women of color who continue to be undervalued and underpaid — and a big part of that puzzle is a lack of paid leave. Too often the burden of caregiving falls on women — falls on women of color — again, disproportionately,” Huckelbridge said.

Participants in Monday’s day of action emphasized the importance of investing in employees through paid leave, but also pointed out that not all businesses are equipped to do so on their own.

Dr. Manju Dawkins, founder and CEO of Thimble Health, a health care business focused on solutions for alleviating needle fear and pain, spoke about difficulties she faces as a small business owner.

“One of the most important things to recognize about this movement is that it’s not about putting the onus on businesses,” Dawkins said. “As a small business owner, I’m also very sensitive to that. It’s really hard to keep a business afloat. And so this is really something that the federal government should support, because it is good for the country.”

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