In #FamilyFirstFridays, Paid Family Leave, Washington, DC

***Written by Kimberly Mitchell, UFCW Local 400 member, and PFL Advocate, posted by Joanna Blotner on her behalf***

Last year I wrote in an op-ed in the Afro, “[w]hen I hear about D.C. [elected officials] who are trying to destroy our paid leave law, I imagine they must be lucky that they haven’t yet had to care for a spouse or partner or child who is sick or dying. I can’t see how anyone who has been through this wouldn’t want everyone to be able to be covered through this.”

I wrote those words still grieving for the mother I lost without the chance to say goodbye. She passed while I was at work, fearful to tell me of her deteriorating condition because she knew any missed time would result in lost wages and likely reprimand.  With a teenage daughter at home, I did my best to manage life, work, care, stress, and grief those final months but I should have been there. I should have been there to hold her hand when she left this world.

Last year I spoke out in hurt but guided by optimism that the DC Council would preserve the law I fought hard – alongside many others – to pass in honor of my mother.  It was and, still is, important to me that no one else in DC would have to experience the regret that I did. The Council did the right thing protecting the Universal Paid Leave Act — which establishes a paid leave insurance program for all people working in DC’s private sector — from weakening amendments that would have undermined access to paid family and medical leave benefits for workers like me.

With paid leave being fiercely attacked at every turn this fall, especially by Mayor Bowser, the wound is raw again. Now I speak out in anger. How are we still debating whether or not DC should be at the vanguard of compassion?

I work at a big retailer in the city and, like nearly 80% of DC workers, we have no paid family leave policy. My store, like many, keeps most of us on part-time schedules; only 25% of part-time workers in the District have any access to employer-provided paid parental, family, or medical leave benefits. With limited access to leave benefits and a constant need to be assigned more hours and win favor with supervisors, this means we go into work when we’re ill instead of recovering at home. It means we can’t take time off to care for our parents, our partners, our siblings, or for my first grandbaby who just turned one year old.

I want to see the District’s leaders implementing our paid leave program with alacrity and pride, not undermining it because it helps *too many* people. I’m a native Washingtonian and think it is deeply unfair and wrong that some people would limit paid leave only to workers who live in the District (as if the District could ever even meet the housing demand needed to accomodate our one million plus person workforce!). No matter whether you are black, white, brown, rich, poor, native Washingtonian or transplant, we will all need to provide care to a loved one. How can it possibly be bad to advance a compassionate work culture that enables all of us to balance caregiving demands at life’s first breath, last breath, or the challenges in between?!

I rejoiced when DC passed the Universal Paid Leave Act in 2016 because I know all too well that this sort of benefit program would be a game changer for me and my colleagues. I still can’t see how anyone who has been through what I have would work to undermine paid leave for others. Why is it so hard for DC to put working families first?

For my family, for yours, for all of us, we must demand better.

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