Paid Leave Roundtable with U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez
All Americans should have the opportunity to succeed in our global economy. Oregon has a long history of leading on work and family policies, passing a family and medical leave law which preceded the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, and implementing the Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA) in 1995, a broad expansion of FMLA.
As you know, Oregon became the fourth state to pass a statewide sick days law, establishing a labor standard that protects all employees’ right to earn and use sick time.
The reality is, all Oregonians have medical emergencies, all Oregonians have kids who get sick. But not all Oregonians had sick leave to deal with those situations, and that was unfair.
Now, for the first time, they do.
Oregon’s paid sick leave bill was carefully constructed to make this leave affordable for everyone and easy to implement for the small businesses that are core to our economy.
But paid sick leave isn’t always appropriate, and for other family emergencies, OFLA extends job-protected, but unpaid, time to employees working for smaller firms and those with shorter job tenures than are covered by FMLA.
Currently, most Oregonians working for employers with 25 or more employees have access to unpaid, job-protected leave through OFLA - if they meet other qualifying requirements.
However, according to late 2014 data, approximately 425,000 Oregonians — or 29 percent of our private-sector workforce — are excluded from OFLA protections due to the size of their employer. Additional workers are excluded due to job tenure and minimum working hour requirements.
Among those who qualify, the fact that this leave is usually unpaid is often a barrier to utilization. National data indicates that only 11 percent of workers have access to paid family leave through their employer.
One of my top priorities for the state of Oregon is to ensure that all Oregonians are thriving. I am interested in pursuing additional data-driven opportunities to support working families, including the creation of a state paid family and medical leave program.
With the support my legislative colleagues and an active group of supportive and diverse stakeholders, Oregon is primed to become one of the next states to implement a paid family and medical leave program.
This will not be simple and will require a better understanding of the current Oregon leave landscape.
It also will require the involvement of stakeholder groups that reflect the needs and interests of business, labor, communities of color, women, seniors, children and other impacted populations.
Passage of paid sick leave and consideration of possible improvements to family leave are important steps forward in supporting the financial stability of Oregon families.
Oregon has made headway on other fronts as well. For example, 95 percent of Oregonians now have access to health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
In the 2015 legislative session, we renewed and expanded a series of tax credits for working families for child care and other expenses.
- We established individual retirement savings accounts to encourage Oregonians to save for their futures.
- We fully-funded all-day kindergarten for the first time ever, and expanded investments in critical early childhood education programs such as Head Start.
- We doubled our investment in career technical education and STEM to help Oregonians get training for good jobs.
- We greatly expanded Oregon Opportunity Grants to an additional 16,000 students, making a college education more accessible to more Oregonians.
But there is still a great deal of work to be done. I am committed to achieving state policies that ensure a growing economy that works for all Oregonians.