Lt. Gov. Gilchrist: I Benefitted From Family Leave, Michiganders Should Too

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist joins MichMash to talk about efforts to expand paid family leave, as well as his own decision to take time off for his family.

The Gilchrist family welcomed their third child, Ruby Madeline, into the world on June 19, 2019. 

“It was funny because she was already the most famous person in our family because the governor announced my wife, Ellen, was pregnant during the State of the State address in 2019,” says Garlin Gilchrist, who was just a few months into his tenure as Lieutenant Governor of Michigan.

“It’s wrong that 76 percent of dads go back to work within a week of a child being born. It puts so much more strain on mothers who are without the support of their partners.” — Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist

Although he was the second highest ranking elected member of a new administration trying to get traction in a new era of divided state government, Gilchrist says he was set on taking some time off the job to be with his growing family. He took four weeks.

“My understanding is that was actually unprecedented for a state official, at my level, to take leave like that,” he tells MichMash hosts Cheyna Roth and Jake Neher. 

Listen to the latest episode of MichMash above, and subscribe over iTunesNPR OneSpotify or where ever you get your podcasts.

Jake Neher/WDET
Jake Neher/WDET

“What it meant for my family was the ability to be patient and to be fully present. To even figure out and read all the instruction manuals for the new car seat. All that takes time,” says Gilchrist.

Businesses in Michigan are not required to provide paid parental leave to employees.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid family leave after the birth of a child. It only applies to employers and employees that meet certain criteria.

As of 2012, just nine percent of work sites offered paid paternity leave to all employees. A survey by human resources consulting firm Mercer suggests 40 percent of employers offer some form of paid parental leave to birth parents as of 2019.

The FMLA “is important. It is an important worker protection. [But] it is like the lowest floor you can think of and so we believe that it is our responsibility to go further to try harder.” — Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist

Still, for a majority of workers in the U.S., any paid time off after the birth or adoption of a child must come out of their personal earned vacation and/or sick time that they have accrued.

“That’s why, in the budget, we proposed actually making 12 weeks of paid parental leave available to all state employees in Michigan as a statement of values, but also as an example to set for employers across state,” says Gilchrist. 

“It’s wrong that 76 percent of dads, for example, basically go back to work within a week of a child being born,” he continues. “And that’s tough because it puts so much more strain on mothers who are basically fending for themselves with children without the support of their partners. And it doesn’t put anyone in the best position to be able to be successful. I’m pretty confident that contributes to things like postpartum depression and all the other stressors that come with being a new parent. And so to the extent that we can have policies and programs to support families, In that way, I think we should.”

 “It doesn’t put anyone in the best position to be able to be successful. I’m pretty confident that contributes to things like postpartum depression and all the other stressors that come with being a new parent.” — Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist

But Michigan’s political climate — especially given the pressing nature of a global pandemic — is probably not suited for a serious debate about mandating paid parental leave. In 2018, the Republican-controlled state Legislature adopted, then gutted, a citizen-initiated law that would have guaranteed earned paid sick leave for workers. 

Gilchrist just hopes that Republicans in the Legislature will accept the more modest proposal in Gov. Whitmer’s proposed budget guaranteeing parental leave for state workers.

“We hope that, certainly, our Republican counterparts will be willing to come to the table because, you know, I believe that they value family, I believe that they value parents, I believe that they value people supporting the health of both mothers and babies,” he says.

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  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.
  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.