The Michigan Legislature is coming under new scrutiny for its own family leave policies for lawmakers and staffers.
As part of the weekly series MichMash, WDET’s Jake Neher and Slate’s Cheyna Roth speak with WKAR’s Abigail Censky about her reporting on this issue and the impact it could have on all Michiganders.
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Censky’s reporting started as a response to a Twitter thread from state Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak). McMorrow was newly on maternity leave, and she announced that she would take a full 12 weeks of leave, even though as a state lawmaker she technically wasn’t eligible for it. That’s despite state employees being eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act.
For one: even with maternity leave, there’s an unspoken expectation that women will work through it. It’s like a badge of honor. 3 days after giving birth, a lobbyist reached out to my office and said, “I know Mallory’s on leave but can we get 1:1 time this week?”— Mallory McMorrow (@MalloryMcMorrow) February 19, 2021
For McMorrow, the decision to be with her child wasn’t easy, and it’s one that she said could hurt her politically come re-election. That’s because Michigan does not allow for lawmakers to vote by proxy or remote. But McMorrow said in a Tweet:
“But I’m going to take the full 12 weeks. Especially for those of us who advocate and push for family leave, we can’t say one thing and do another. We have to normalize work that supports working families … or things will never change.”
Censky looked into not only family leave, or lack thereof, for state lawmakers but also for members of their staffs. What she found was disheartening.
“It’s kind of confusing to consider the place where the laws are being made has all of these different policies that you can kind of fall into, depending on who’s paying your salary in Lansing.” — Abigail Censky, WKAR
The 12 weeks of paid family leave trumpeted by the Whitmer administration as being a boon for state employees does not apply for House and Senate employees.
“They have less time, somebody familiar with the House policy told me,” Censky says.
“Basically, it’s six weeks, if you’re the parent that gave birth to the child in the House, and two weeks if you’re not the parent that gave birth to the child. And there’s a bunch of details about, you know, how much more time you can take, and if that’s paid or not, but it’s not the same. And it’s kind of confusing to consider the place where the laws are being made has all of these different policies that you can kind of fall into, depending on who’s paying your salary in Lansing.”
“The fact that when, before women are even serving in the state Legislature or choosing whether or not they want to work for a state lawmaker, they’re thinking about, do they want to have children or have a family. That is another barrier to entry.” — Abigail Censky, WKAR
Censky says when it comes to progressive family leave policies, it’s the private sector that is leading, not the place where state laws are being made. She says many times public bodies are the slowest to change their policies when it comes to maternity and paternity leave.
These types of policies that cut against parents and potential parents could lead some to rethink going to work at the state Capitol. And it especially cuts against women who already make up far fewer members of state and federal governments.
“And if you’re thinking about it from like, a perspective of recruiting talent, or at least retaining people, that’s something that Sen. McMorrow brought up when she was talking to me about this,” Censky says. “The fact that when, before women are even serving in the state Legislature or choosing whether or not they want to work for a state lawmaker, they’re thinking about, do they want to have children or have a family. That is another barrier to entry.”
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