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All NM workers need paid family, medical leave

On Dec. 31, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order establishing 12 weeks of paid parental leave for full-time state employees. The governor’s executive order came on the last day of 2019, a year during which both the city of Albuquerque and University of New Mexico extended similar paid parental leave benefits to their employees. Additionally, a new federal policy will extend paid parental leave to federal employees beginning on Oct. 1.

We thank our local, state, and institutional leaders for taking such important steps to ensure that over 100,000 public-sector employees in New Mexico have access to paid parental leave. (The governor and Legislature should) act to expand these protections in both scope and reach. In order to provide the greatest benefit to all New Mexico workers and businesses, it is up to our elected officials to support and pass a Paid Family & Medical Leave Act.

A Paid Family & Medical Leave Coalition, which is made up of 25 organizations and supported by the Southwest Women’s Law Center, has developed a proposal with Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, and Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, that will cover all other employees who don’t have this benefit yet. The Paid Family & Medical Leave Act, (which stalled in the House Rules Committee this session), would create a state-administered trust fund for eligible workers that ensures that no one has to choose between their job and caring for a new child, a family member with a serious health concern, or their own medical condition. Employee and employer contributions would fund compensation payments and administration of the fund. After contributing to the fund for at least six months and submitting an application to N.M. Workforce Solutions, workers will receive a percentage of their average weekly wages for up to 12 weeks of leave. Self-employed individuals can opt into the program. Employees and self-employed individuals will receive leave compensation payments directly from the Trust Fund. During an employee’s leave period, employers will benefit from wage savings, which may be used to pay overtime wages for current employees, hire a temporary replacement, or to invest in other ways.

Both employers and workers benefit from Paid Family & Medical Leave programs. Other states that have implemented their own PFML programs have seen measurable decreases in infant mortality, child-abuse injuries, and nursing home usage among the elderly. These programs are also associated with reduced caregiver stress, improved parental physical and mental health, and higher breastfeeding and immunization rates for infants.

Employers who offer paid family and medical leave have a competitive advantage in hiring and retention. PFML programs are effective in improving worker performance and engagement. Workers who take paid leave are more likely to be employed by the same business two years later, less likely to take sick leave when they return to work, and more likely to report high morale and workplace satisfaction. Like the public sector in New Mexico, large corporations understand this competitive edge. These corporations are increasingly likely to offer private paid leave programs to attract and retain high-quality workers. However, few of our homegrown New Mexico businesses are large enough to easily absorb the costs of offering this benefit.

New Mexico is proud to offer entrepreneurs, start-ups and small businesses an opportunity to innovate, experiment and grow right here in the Land of Enchantment. PFMLA can support small business, improve recruitment and retention, and promote innovation by allowing entrepreneurs to take business risks without fearing the loss of income if they or a loved one become unexpectedly ill. By committing to PFMLA, our state can take the burden off small-business owners, leveling the playing field and creating a safety net for business owners and their workers.

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