January 26, 2016
Testimony on SB 385 - Wisconsin Family Medical Insurance Act
Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform
Contact: Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, President, Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice
Good morning. I am Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, President of Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice. I am here to speak in support of legislation to provide PAID family leave to Wisconsin’s hard-working families. Our various faith traditions teach us to look out for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the struggling. Every day families are faced with the choice between earning their daily pay, or staying home to care for a sick child, a needy relative, or their own health. It is a devastating choice no one should ever have to make.
When the federal Family Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993, it provided much needed protections for workers who needed to take time off to recover from childbirth, welcome an adopted child into the family, care for an aging parent, or recover from their own illness. But only about 60% of workers are covered by the Act, and it only allows for unpaid leave. Few families can afford for their breadwinners to go without pay for any length of time.
The Wisconsin Family Medical Leave Insurance Act would help fill in the gaps of the federal law. It would provide for an insurance program similar to unemployment insurance, so that workers can take time off to care for themselves or their families without having to worry about going without pay. Further, this legislation would extend family leave to a greater number of workers, as it covers businesses with at least 25 workers, instead of the 50 required in the federal statute; and it broadens the definition of family to include siblings and grandparents.
As people of faith, we believe in fair treatment for workers and concern for healthy families. We heed the words of the prophet Isaiah, decrying religious acts that were all show, with no morality behind them. Isaiah relates this dialogue between God and human beings:
“Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?' "Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers… Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself?.. Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:3-7)
Answering the prophetic voices of all our diverse faith traditions to address the needs of workers and their families, Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice has convened the Dignity at Work Coalition, a coalition of faith groups, social justice and advocacy organizations, and concerned citizens, to address issues that affect hard-working Wisconsin families. The Dignity at Work Coalition works to address fair pay; predictable, stable hours; paid sick leave; paid family and medical leave; affordable quality child care; accessible public transportation; an end to racial discrimination in hiring and employment practices; pension protection; and a voice at work.
Advocating for legislation such as the Family Medical Leave Insurance Act is basic to the faith beliefs of Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice and the mission of the Dignity at Work Coalition. It will ensure workers the dignity of being able to take proper care of themselves and their families, free of financial worry. For all these reasons, we urge you to support this important legislation.
Please help support this important legislation. Call your Senators and Assembly members and urge them to vote for SB 385/AB516. You can find your legislators here.
For more information, see the Huffington Post article by Ellen Bravo, Director, Family Values @Work; and a recent report from Laura Dresser, Associate Director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategies (COWS).