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In a move that puts paid leave at the center of debates in the upcoming presidential race, senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders of Vermont proposed legislation on June 11, 2015, that would require employers to provide at least 10 days of paid vacation to American workers.
“The reality is that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that was signed into law in 1993 is totally inadequate,” Sanders said. “While companies like Virgin Group and Netflix have adopted generous paid vacation policies, aimed at boosting productivity and worker loyalty, nearly one in four workers gets no paid vacation time.”
He added, “Research shows that vacations reduce stress, strengthen family relationships, increase productivity and even prevent illness.”
Sanders’ proposal, the Guaranteed Paid Vacation Act, would “allow workers to take two weeks of paid leave so that they can rest and recuperate, travel the country, visit loved ones or simply spend time at home, bonding with their families.”
American employees need a break, according to Sanders, who remarked, “One hundred years ago, workers in this country took to the streets demanding a 40-hour workweek. And here we are 100 years later, living in the most technologically advanced economy in human history and we still don’t have 40-hour workweeks! In fact, 85 percent of working men and 66 percent of working women are working more than 40 hours a week. What we have are millions of people, working incredible hours—some with two or three jobs—just trying to care for themselves and their families. Americans now work, by far, the longest hours of any major country on earth—137 hours a year more than workers in Japan, 260 hours more than the British and 499 hours more than French workers.”
He insisted, “This is not something that would just benefit workers and their families, but also their employers and even society as a whole. Studies show that nine in 10 Americans report that their happiest memories come from vacations.”
The economy would benefit as well, he asserted. “If employees who already get time off took the full amount they were eligible for, the economy would benefit from more than $160 billion in total business sales [and] $21 billion in tax revenues, and 1.2 million additional jobs would be supported in industries like retail and manufacturing.”
The proposal also would help address existing inequities in vacation time. Sanders noted that a Bureau of Labor Statistics study shows that 67 percent of white male workers over 18 receive paid vacation, compared with 58 percent of white women and just 40 percent of black men.
As with paid family and sick leave, the U.S. trails other countries’ vacation laws.
“The United States is the only advanced economy that does not provide its workers with some type of paid vacation time,” Sanders remarked. “Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and many countries in Europe guarantee their workers at least 10 days of paid vacation, while other countries, including France, Austria and Belgium, provide far more generous benefits.”
Paid Family Leave and Sick Leave Bills
In addition to announcing his support for paid vacation, Sanders reiterated his support for 12 weeks of paid family leave, as proposed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which Sanders co-sponsored.
“In my view, every worker in America should be guaranteed at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave—and that is why I am supporting the Family Act introduced by Senator Gillibrand. The Family Act would guarantee employees 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to take care of a baby; to help a family member who is diagnosed with cancer or has some other serious medical condition; or to take care of themselves if they become seriously ill. And just like Social Security retirement and disability, it is an insurance program that workers would pay into, at a price of about one cup of coffee a week.”
Sanders remarked, “Simply stated, it is an outrage that millions of women in this country give birth and then are forced back to work because they don’t have the income to stay home with their newborn babies. Virtually every psychologist who has studied this issue understands that the first weeks and months of life are enormously important in terms of the emotional and intellectual development of that person.”
Sanders also supports a sick leave bill, the Healthy Families Act, which guarantees seven days of paid sick leave to American workers. Introduced by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Sanders said the bill “would benefit 43 million Americans who don’t already have access to paid sick leave, and it would create a permanent floor in workplaces where employers already provide some paid sick leave.”
Allen Smith, J.D., is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMlegaleditor.
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