"Whether you're diagnosed with COVID or cancer. It should not mean you have to leave your job or lose your paycheck," said Liz Richards, Executive Director of the Delaware Cares Coalition for Paid Leave.
A coalition of 35 organizations in Delaware wants to see workers--and their source of income--protected when facing a family event or a medical emergency.
"I'm speaking to you almost a year into a pandemic that has changed the world," Richards said. "Families have seen their lives turned upside down by a diagnosis. Parents are struggling to care for their kids, siblings juggling work to care for their sick parents. These impossible choices have wreaked havoc on our economy."
A pandemic is the perfect time for Delaware to join the nine other states--California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Washington, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon, and Colorado--and District of Columbia in protecting the state's workforce, especially as the negative effects of unpaid leave disproportionately affect vulnerable and minority populations.
"It was recently reported that 2.5 million women have left the workforce during the pandemic; a disproportionate number of them, women of color, and women in low paying jobs," Richards said. "Too many have been forced to make impossible choices between their job and their family. But sadly, this is not new. For too long, we have not had an economy that works for working people. When people are being forced to leave their jobs in order to care for their families, we all lose."
Among those workers who disappeared in 2020 were 13,000 from Delaware, where women experienced unemployment rates 2.5 times higher than the previous year, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.
"The National Partnership for Women and Families estimates that FMLA is inaccessible for over 54% of working Delawareans," she said. "Even among those who do have access to FMLA, too many cannot afford to take unpaid leave, especially when their family's medical costs are skyrocketing. As a result, many are forced to work through family medical emergencies, or leave their jobs altogether."
Nancy Lemus described not being able to take off from her job to spend time at the hospital with her son Christopher, who is nonverbal and has cerebral palsy and a movement disorder called dystonia, which causes painful spasms. Because she wasn't at the hospital in January 2015, he hospital didn't know her son was in pain during a procedure.
"If you don't know Christopher's baseline--and, in the hospital when our children are admitted, they're seeing them at their worst. So, nurses, doctors they don't know what they look like at their best--the only ones that know what they really look like are us parents," Lemus said. "When we can't be there to express that they're in pain and that they need pain medications, our children will actually go hours in pain. I remember having to go through all these things with Christopher, but at the same time, throughout this whole process of him being admitted, I did not take time off work. I was still working full time."
Ferdinand Feubodei's wife gave birth in 2020, and experienced serious complications during the pregnancy. Feubodei had no paid leave from his material handling company. His wife was suddenly admitted during a check up with skyrocketing and the baby in danger.
"Here I am, having to decide between leaving my wife sedated in hospital, and getting a check," he said. "I wanted to be there for what she wants...there and then, but still had to make the decision of running back to work every evening, to come back on Monday at 1 a.m. Hospitals don't allow you to come in. It was just a rough period at that point, and so she got sedated, she stayed about nine days in hospital. Most horrible nine days I've ever experienced, having to just let the job go because the decision was between my family and work. Which one do I choose?"
With concerns like these facing Delawareans, these organizations are now calling for Delaware to institute paid family medical leave so those choices can be easier.
- AAUW Delaware
- ACLU Delaware
- Black Mothers in Power
- Brandywine Buzz
- Building People Power
- Central Delaware NAACP Branch
- Delaware Alliance for Community Advancement (DelACA)
- Delaware Building and Construction Trades Council
- Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence (DCADV)
- Delaware Community Legal Aid Society, Inc (CLASI)
- Delaware Democratic Black Caucus
- Delaware Developmental Disabilities Council
- Delaware Nurses Association
- Delaware Paid Parental Leave Coalition
- Delaware Poor People’s Campaign
- Delaware Sikh Awareness Coalition
- Delaware United
- Delaware Women for Inclusion
- General Teamsters Local 326
- HerStory Ensemble
- Mental Health Association in Delaware
- Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League
- Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League Young Professionals
- Mt. Zion AME Church
- National Alliance on Mental Illness in Delaware (NAMI Delaware)
- National Coalition of 100 Black Women Inc Delaware Chapter
- National Partnership for Women and Families
- Network Delaware
- Plumbers and Pipefitters UA Local Union 74
- Progressive Democrats of Sussex County
- Progressive Democrats for Delaware
- SEIU 32BJ
- UFCW Local 27
- Unitarian Universalist Delaware Advocacy Network
- We Stand 4 Something
- Working Families Party
"We need an economy that works for working Delawareans. That's the Delaware way," Richards said. "In the face of so many hardships, we are coming together to build the solution. We are calling on the Delaware General Assembly to pass paid family medical leave in the first state, and there is no time to waste."
The coalition anticipates the movement to be aided by State Senator Sarah McBride, State Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, and State Representative Debra Heffernan, who are expected to introduce legislation on the issue this year.