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All Minnesota workers could take paid time off under DFL plan

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Alyshia Jackson bent down to wring out her mop and then brushed it across the concrete floor of the lobby of an apartment building in St. Paul.

It’s the kind of move that caused complications in the weeks after his gallbladder removal operation in September, forcing him to take more time off work to heal. The small business owner and single mom is still catching up on the credit card debt she’s accumulated.

“I didn’t have any type of support,” Jackson said. “Do I close my doors and take care of my health or do I keep showing up and sabotaging my recovery?”

She is among Minnesota residents calling for a state-paid family and medical leave program. As Democrats take full control of state government and enshrine paid leave as a top priority, Minnesota looks likely to join 11 other states with programs meant to ensure workers can take care of themselves. or their family without triggering a financial downfall.

Employees could be granted up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a family member, such as a newborn or sick relative, as well as 12 weeks of medical leave if they fall ill, as part of the measure envisaged by the legislators.

“It will happen this year. It will be in the governor’s budget,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said at a news conference last week to highlight the bill.

DFL lawmakers and Gov. Tim Walz want to use some of the state’s estimated $17.6 billion budget surplus to kickstart the program, Hortman said. The bill’s sponsors said they didn’t have an exact figure for the start-up cost, but past estimates were over $1 billion.

After an initial injection of excess cash, the bill stipulates that the program would be supported by a 0.6% premium on wages that would be funneled into a family and medical insurance account.

Employees and employers would contribute to the program, lawmakers said. Previous cost estimates suggested that a worker earning $50,000 a year would contribute about $3 a week and the employer would also spend about $3 a week, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ruth Richardson, said. DFL-Mendota Heights.

Employers could opt out and continue to offer private paid family leave or medical leave plans, or both, under the bill. They should seek state approval to offer the replacement plan, which should include at least the same benefits, protections, and rights as the public program. Employers may have to pay a fee if they do not meet program requirements.

“The way it works is really a level playing field,” Richardson said, allowing small businesses to compete with those who can offer such programs and pool financial risk statewide through the program. insurance. She said the goal was to “make sure everyone can access it, no matter what it looks like, what its zip code is or who it works for.”

Some business owners, like Jackson, support the change. In his small business, 1st Class Cleaning Services, an employee needed two weeks off last spring when a relative died. The worker knew that Jackson was paying her out of pocket during this time. Later, she left for another company.

“She said, ‘I love working for you, but I don’t want to feel bad when I’m on sick leave,’” Jackson said. “Something has to give. … If I want reliable people, I have to be able to give them services where they feel safe and supported.”

But many business leaders disagree with the plan.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce opposes the mandatory approach, said Lauryn Schothorst, director of workplace management policy for the organization. She said a significant number of companies already offer some kind of paid time off.

“They do it in a way that works for their workforce, their operations,” Schothorst said. “It doesn’t come with the same kind of legal compliance risks and responsibilities, paperwork, reporting, all those added burdens when you talk about complying with a law.”

The current system allows companies to tailor benefits to the needs of their workforce, potentially focusing more on tuition reimbursement or healthcare costs rather than paid time off, it said. she declared.

Schothorst also raised concerns about the possibility that a person could benefit from a total of up to 24 weeks of leave per year.

Only a small percentage of workers end up taking both medical and family leave in a year, said Debra Fitzpatrick of the Children’s Defense Fund, which has been pushing for change. A 2019 report she worked on at the University of Minnesota estimated that 13.4% of Minnesota workers take family or medical leave per year, and that would rise to 15% with a paid vacation program.

The program is not for people who need a few sick days, Fitzpatrick said. It’s for those who have to miss work for seven days or more in situations that can have major economic consequences for a family, she said.

Workers would need a health care provider to verify that they or the person they are caring for has a serious medical condition. A new Family and Medical Insurance Division, under the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, would administer the program.

The 12 weeks of family leave could be used for more than just caring for a sick loved one. It could be used to bond after the birth, adoption or placement of a child in a family. Or someone could take “safety leave” if they or a family member has been the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or harassment.

The amount workers receive while furloughed would vary depending on their salary, with low-income people receiving about 90% of their income and high-income people about 60%, said Sen. Alice Mann, DFL-Edina.

Low-income Minnesotans disproportionately lack paid vacation time and have to work when sick, Hortman said.

“It’s also a matter of privilege,” she said. “We have the ability to solve this problem, and we will.”

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