Media Coverage: Please, President Obama and Gov. Romney, no lip service on family values

Please, President Obama and Gov. Romney, no lip service on family values
October 2, 2012
Jessica Smith, 9to5 Colorado intern
The Denver Post
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Check out this op-ed written by Jessica Smith, 9to5 intern, that was published in The Denver Post. Jessica started a petition to get President Obama and Governor Romney talking about paid sick days and family leave insurance. Jessica knows a little something about the need for these policies. She suffered a stroke when she was 3 years old.

When I was 3 years old, I suffered a stroke. My mother did what millions of working parents in this country can’t do: she took paid time off to care for me. Quickly however, she used up what little time she had and was forced to take unpaid leave.

Struggling to balance work and family responsibilities took a toll on my mom. Not only was she worried about me, she also spent her days stressing about paying bills on less income and even losing her job. According to the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago, one in six workers reports that they or a family member had been fired, suspended, punished or threatened with being fired for taking time off due to personal illness or to care for a sick child or relative.

Twenty-three years later, I am now a student at the University of Denver, and I’m petitioning Jim Lehrer, host of the October 3 presidential debate on my campus, to question President Obama and Governor Romney about paid sick days and family leave insurance policies. I want to make sure that working parents don’t have to struggle like my mom did. And I want our next president to address this problem by supporting paid family medical leave insurance and paid sick days laws.

With the growing number of single-parent families, two-parent households requiring two incomes, and most mothers with young children in the workforce, the rules of the workplace haven’t kept up. Four out of 10 private sector jobs do not allow workers to earn even one paid sick day to care for themselves or their families when the flu or a stomach virus hits.

And only a small percentage of Americans can take time off from work to care for a newborn child or a seriously ill family member, without losing their entire paycheck. The Family Medical Leave Act covers just half of the workforce, and it’s unpaid, so even those who are eligible can’t always afford to take it. Providing earned paid sick days and family leave insurance is essential to protecting our families and our jobs in today’s economy.

The upcoming presidential debate is the perfect opportunity to find out if President Obama and Governor Romney really value working families by supporting earned paid sick days and family leave insurance.

Some employers embrace these types of policies that are so vital to today’s workforce, recognizing that they also help the bottom line by increasing productivity and decreasing turnover. But not all employers have adapted. Take for example, Stacey, a single working mother, who was told by her employer that she’d lose her job if she took off to take her son who was sick with fever to the doctor. As Stacey says, “Parents need guaranteed paid sick days and affordable family leave. I need protection so that I can both work and take care of my family. I shouldn’t have to choose.”

Stacey is far from alone. In thousands of Colorado homes each day, kids wake up with fevers or earaches. Workers struggle to recover from car accidents, and older adults rely on their children to get them to doctor’s appointments. Everyone gets sick.

American families cannot afford to wait to get our economy moving again. We need to enact earned paid sick days and family leave insurance policies that will help hardworking Americans hold onto their jobs, support their families and sustain local businesses.

I can’t think of a better way to kick off National Work/Family Month, than by getting the presidential candidates to talk about strengthening our economy in these ways that are meaningful for working families and the middle class.

I hope you’ll join me by signing my petition at So far the petition has over 4,300 supporters.

Allowing workers to earn a limited number of paid sick days is a common sense measure that will increase job security for working families, and help rebuild an economy that values hard work and families. A family medical leave insurance program will enable new parents to care for their newborns and will allow workers to recuperate or help loved ones when a serious illness strikes — without losing their jobs, their savings or their homes in the process.

One day, it could be your daughter or other family member who needs you. It’s time to strengthen families and rebuild America’s economy by making the workplace pro-family, so that workers can do their jobs, keep their jobs and take care of themselves and their families.

Jessica Smith is a graduate student at the University of Denver.

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