Every North Dakota worker deserves legislator benefit of Paid Family Leave

A recent news article reported $56k was paid to legislators on days they were absent from work during the last legislative session. The vast majority of these absences were for legitimate reasons – lawmakers attending a funeral or conference, recuperating from a minor illness, recovering from a major health event like cancer or stroke, or taking time after the birth of a child.

While some may question why legislators get paid time off, we don’t. We have experienced these challenges ourselves. We question why all North Dakotans don’t get paid leave. These very same experiences also happen to the people we represent. That reality is why we felt strongly enough to bring forward proposals that would give North Dakota workers and employers access to similar opportunities and benefits we’re afforded as legislators. We were disappointed when our colleagues voted “no.”

No one should have to choose between economic security and caring for themselves or a loved one when it’s most needed. Thousands of North Dakotans make this impossible decision every day: stay at work to earn their paycheck, or care for their own health or that of a new baby, an injured spouse, or a parent in their last days.

Research shows that nearly half of North Dakota’s private sector employees can’t even earn a single sick day. Nationally, only 13% of the private sector workforce has access to paid family leave for those rare, longer-term health events. Layer those statistics on top of the fact that more than 62,000 North Dakotans serve as unpaid caregivers – a number that will only grow as our baby-boomer population ages – and we have a lot of people in our state faced with a terrible choice. We’re all one event away from being in that position.

In addition to providing economic security for North Dakota workers and families during some of the most challenging life events, paid leave programs also help businesses. Research shows paid leave programs improve employee morale and retention and reduce re-training costs. North Dakota continues to face workforce shortages; this would serve as a competitive differentiator to help attract workers, especially young families, to fill our many open jobs. Paid leave is truly a win-win – good for families, good for business.

At the end of each legislative day when we’re in session, we vote in the Senate and the House to excuse our absent colleagues. That “yes” vote provides them, even in their absences, with pay, with no questions asked. We are committed to working toward and building support for pro-family policies like paid family leave and voting “yes” for North Dakotans, not just ourselves.

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