Connecticut has joined six states and the District of Columbia in establishing a paid family and medical leave program for private employees.
Public employees are ineligible for the benefit currently, and could be added as eligible if negotiated during collective bargaining.
The moment was a significant one for advocates, who cheered and clapped throughout the bill-signing ceremony Tuesday afternoon.
“Let’s just remember this is not just pro-worker, it is pro-business,” said Rep. Robyn Porter, (D – New Haven). “You can’t be pro-worker without being pro-business because businesses cannot without exist so let’s make sure that this is the message that we are sending.”
Starting in 2023, the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program will provide every private sector worker with up to 12 weeks of paid leave, up to $900 per week. The program will be funded through .5 percent payroll deductions in every private sector worker’s paycheck starting in 2021. An appointed board will oversee the formation and administration of the new insurance program.
Republicans fought the Democratic sponsored plan for paid family and medical leave, arguing it was an onerous and expensive mandate. They preferred an opt-in sort of program that would be designed by private insurers, and employees could opt into the program.
“People have a right to make a decision for themselves and not let government tell them that we know better than what’s better for themselves,” said Sen. Len Fasano, (R – North Haven), the top Republican in the State Senate.
But in the end, supporters won the political battle, focusing on the stories of families who could have used it.
One of those stories was on display at the bill signing.
Kharlene Wonder’s husband suffered from prostate cancer and he had to take unpaid time off. That meant Kharlene’s weekly pay of $228 would have to cover the family’s bills which included her mother-in-law and son.
“It was very challenging,” Wonder said. She added that she wished this program was in place when her husband fell ill.
The business community in Connecticut, with some exceptions, had been fighting the legislation tooth and nail. Even though a pair of business owners joined Lamont, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, and over 100 supporters Tuesday, organizations that represent tens of thousands of employers were staunchly opposed.
“There are no easy replacements for most of the skilled people that I have working here,” said Richard Laurenzi, president of Prospect Machine Products in Prospect.
He said the measure is unquestionably anti-business, forcing a smaller employer, with only 15 workers, to figure things out if one of his employees takes the paid family and medical leave.
“I couldn’t put a number on it, but it would hurt. It would really hurt,” Laurenzi said.