Statement from Amanda Sears, Director of the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy
The need for increased access to paid family and medical leave has been at the forefront of the gubernatorial campaign in New Hampshire. Today the Union Leader published an article seeking to discredit the story of one of the individuals who publicly shared his experience lacking access to paid family and medical leave while his wife was dying from brain cancer.
According to the article, Kurt Sundstrom, who is featured in an ad by the Molly Kelly campaign, received roughly seven weeks of paid time off in the year between his wife’s terminal brain cancer diagnosis and her death. The paid time off consisted of Sundstrom’s own unused vacation and sick time and unused sick time his colleagues were allowed to donate to him during the last year of his wife’s life.
There is a subtext to the article that there was something misleading in Kurt’s story. The fact that following his wife’s terminal diagnosis Kurt was able to use vacation and sick days to take some paid time off does not invalidate the fact that his family was burdened by not having access to paid family and medical leave and that he could not afford to take unpaid time off work after his vacation and sick time was used.
The individual leave taking of Kurt Sundstrom and the personnel policies of his employer, the Currier Gallery of Art, should not be under the microscope. The debate over whether and how to meet the needs of working people to maintain financial security during times when critical caregiving needs pull people away from their jobs is not about the individual practices of a single employer. Kurt never implied his employer was anything less than generous, instead he advocated for a policy to ensure all working people to have access to paid family and medical leave, a policy that would have helped him and would help countless others in the future.
Many people do not have access to any paid time off. Twenty three percent of working people earn no paid vacation time. Access is the worst for those working low wage jobs, 61% of the lowest wage earners don’t earn any paid vacation time.1
In New Hampshire 39% of working people don’t earn a single paid sick day.2
Only 17% of working people have access to paid family leave time through their employer that means the other 83% of people are cobbling together sick or vacation time if they have it, or are losing the income they depend on to make ends meet.
Having access to paid time off to care for a family member who is dying shouldn’t rely on winning the boss lottery. Most employers try to do right by their employees but as it was in this case, it is generally not enough. Employers are in a bind trying to cover the work of the employee they are missing and trying to do what they can to financially help out their employee during a hard time. Creation of a paid family and medical leave insurance program would help meet the needs of employees and their employers by creating a financial safety net, like unemployment insurance, to provide a temporary financial bridge for working people who need time out from the workforce to meet critical caregiving needs. Other states have met this need by creating paid family and medical leave insurance programs, the only thing standing in the way of New Hampshire from doing the same is the political will of our leaders.
It is disappointing that the Union Leader article feeds into the misconception that Governor Sununu has reinforced, that paid family and medical leave equates to a vacation and in doing so, drags an individual and his employer into an inflammatory pre-election smear.
For more information, contact Amanda Sears, Director, Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy, 603-867-4433, Amanda@familyfriendlyeconomy.org ,
- Millions of Working People Don’t Get Paid Time off for Holidays or Vacation, Elise Gould, Economic Policy Institute, September 2015, https://www.epi.org/publication/millions-of-working-people-dont-get-paid-time-off-for-holidays-or-vacation/
- New Hampshire Needs Paid Sick Days, National Partnership for Women and Families, July 2015, https://www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/campaigns/psd/new-hampshire.pdf
- National Partnership for Women and Families website cited November 2, 2018, https://www.nationalpartnership.org/issues/work-family/paid-leave.html