Detroit Today: Should Michigan require paid family leave?

While some welcome Gov. Whitmer’s proposal for a state-run program, others worry about the effect it would have on businesses and workers.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer aims to create a new state program for paid family and medical leave, a proposal that some worry could pose a significant cost to both businesses and workers.

Last month, the Whitmer administration unveiled a list of policy priorities that included reaching an 100% clean energy standard and lowering health care costs. But what really grabbed headlines was her proposal to pass paid family and medical leave for state residents.

Legislation to meet these ends has been discussed for many years, but there’s never been action around this policy. That may be because paid family and medical leave has always been framed as a killer to our small businesses and the economy at large. Today on the show, Detroit Today host speaks with guests on either side of this debate.

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Danielle Atkinson is the founding director of Mothering Justice, which advocates for mothers of color to influence policy on behalf of themselves and their families. She started the nonprofit organization after having a baby with no paid leave, facing the difficult decision of how long to go without pay in order to bond with her new daughter. And that, she says, is a scenario her family could prepare for. 

“When we’re talking about paid family medical leave, we’re talking about survivors of domestic violence, we’re talking about people who just got a cancer diagnosis, or they got the call that ‘mom’s really going to need some more help, can you take some time off,’ and those are things that are really hard to plan for financially,” she said. “This is the common denominator right. We all get sick, we all have people that depend on us, and we all need an income to survive in this country, so we need to have policies that support how we live.”

Wendy Block, senior vice president of business advocacy with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. She worries that a “one size fits all” state-administered paid leave insurance program would be too expensive and has the potential to hurt businesses and workers in the long run.

“We’re talking about state government taking over leave time and leave policies for workers instead of those things being administered by HR departments,” Block said. “This could force employers to rethink other paid leave that is currently available to employees, especially when you start layering 15 weeks of state mandated leave on top of what in many cases can be very generous paid time off policies or sick time that’s available.”

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    Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.