It’s time to walk the walk – let’s launch paid family leave

By Jen Kimmich, Co-founder & CEO, The Alchemist

and Sascha Mayer, Co-founder & CEO, Mamava

We’re at a pivotal point in Vermont on paid family leave. We have a bill that has passed both chambers of the Legislature and today it is sitting on Governor Scott’s desk. As we wait to see what the Governor will do, it’s time to really reflect what this bill will accomplish, and what our future looks like once it becomes law.

Paid family leave is a key element of a strong benefits system for working families. But unlike some other common benefits – sick time, vacation time, 401k plans – it can be really challenging and expensive for employers to offer this benefit.  Most smaller businesses – the kind that dominate Vermont’s downtowns – are not able to offer paid leave at all. When an employee has a new baby, or a family member becomes ill, they take earned vacation time, unpaid time, they leave their jobs altogether, or they simply don’t take the time they need.

In the years we’ve been working to start a paid family leave program in Vermont, we have heard many stories about the need for this benefit. Businesses need a paid family leave program to retain their key employees through an unavoidable absence. Families need paid leave so they can take the time they need to bond with their new babies or care for a sick spouse, aging parent or ailing child. And our economy needs it, to keep women – the primary caregivers in our society – in the workforce instead of stepping away because they are forced to choose between a job and a loved one.

Now we’re at a crossroads. The Governor has to decide whether he supports working Vermonters – who have spoken loud and clear about their desire to have this program and to pay for it themselves– and small business owners, who have been equally vocal in their support for this shared, portable benefit.

Our legislators who have worked tirelessly to get this bill through the House and Senate will have to decide whether to override the Governor’s veto, if that’s what he chooses to do. If that happens, we urge the full Legislature to vote to make this policy a reality for Vermont families and businesses.

We know there are many ways that this initial paid family leave program as outlined in H107 can be improved upon – starting with participation access for every working Vermonter, instead of just those who make a certain minimum amount each year.

But as business owners, we have to be pragmatic – we can’t start improving it until we have it up and running. We’ve worked on this policy for years, we’ve hashed through every possibility, and we have a punch list of what we’d like to see in future iterations. When Vermonters are able to contribute to and use the paid family leave program, we will be able to continue improving the program. That’s how good public policy works.

Governor Scott wants Vermont to be a great place to do business, we all recognize the need to grow our population and our workforce.  As business owners we recognize that paid parental leave is particularly important for the recruitment and retention of young families in Vermont. Since instituting paid parental leave programs at our businesses, we have both seen firsthand the positive results from this investment.  Since 2016 Mamava employees have welcomed five new babies, with at least two more on the way in 2020. The Alchemist is experiencing its second baby boom in recent years, with three babies born last year and two more expected in the coming months. This is our proof that when our families feel supported, they will stay in Vermont and raise their families.

We want to see a paid family leave program for working Vermonters, and we want it as soon as possible. As Vermonters, our families, our businesses, our ability to attract and retain workers and to take care of our aging population, depend on it. So, Governor Scott, and members of the House and Senate who are on the fence about a veto or override, we are counting on you to do the right thing – let’s launch paid family leave!