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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Andrew Cuomo
Monday in Suffolk County, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that several of the state’s leading women's advocacy groups, including the National Organization for Women, the Campaign for a Pro-Choice New York and the League of Women Voters of New York State, have joined the "Strong Families, Strong New York" campaign to fight for passage of paid family leave in New York State.

These groups are endorsing the Governor's proposal for 12 weeks of paid benefits, funded by employees, to allow workers to care for new children or seriously ill relatives. The Governor’s proposal would benefit millions of New Yorkers – especially women, minorities and low-income workers who need it most – in addition to businesses and the economy overall, and would be the most robust such policy in the nation.

"Ensuring that all working men and women have access to paid family leave isn’t just good policy, it’s the right thing to do," Governor Cuomo said. "New Yorkers should be able to be with their families in times of need without having to put their economic security at risk and that's exactly what this plan ensures. Family and community are two defining characteristics of this state and its time that we start living that way again."

Federal law currently provides only for unpaid family leave, and creates a dilemma for those caught between the need to care for a sick relative or newborn and the pressure to return to work and earn money. Moreover, federal unpaid family leave only covers approximately 60 percent of all workers. Furthermore, 88 percent of American workers do not have access to paid family leave – including those who need it most, such as those living paycheck to paycheck.

The Governor's twelve week proposed paid leave program will be the most robust program in the nation, because it provides double the length of paid leave than provided by any other State program, as well as a high benefit amount. Specifically, after a short ramp-up period, workers will be entitled to 67 percent of their average weekly wage, with a maximum of 67 percent of the State’s average weekly wage, which is estimated to be in excess of $1,000 per week by 2021. This program will ensure that workers will be able to afford to take vital bonding time with their newborns and provide care to sick relatives.
  • Paid family leave helps women, minorities, and low-income workers. For families living paycheck to paycheck, taking extended periods of unpaid leave is often unfeasible. Statewide, more than 39 percent of single mothers with at least one child under the age of 18 lived below the poverty line. Additionally, women and minorities are each over-represented in both state and national poverty rates.

    It is well established that paid family leave leads to healthier babies. An expansion of family leave has been found to increase birth weight, decrease premature birth, and lead to a substantial decrease in infant mortality. This is particularly important to reducing racial and ethnic disparities. In 2012, the mortality rate for white infants was just 3.7 for every thousand live births – but it was 5.27 for Hispanic infants and 8.96 for black infants.

    California’s paid family leave program more than doubled the overall use of maternity leave – increasing it from around three to six or seven weeks for the typical new mother. The program significantly reduced disparities in who could take advantage of family leave, leading to an increase (in leave taking) of threefold for non-college educated mothers, five-fold for single mothers, and seven-fold for racial minorities.
  • Paid family leave helps reduce demands on public assistance. Loss of income for New Yorkers who have to care for a sick family member or a new baby can lead to serious hardship, which can lead to increased demand for state support, funded by taxpayers. Enacting paid family funded by employee payroll deductions is smart policy because it can help more working families make ends meet without public assistance.
  • Paid family leave helps businesses. Providing paid family leave also has numerous benefits for employers. Research from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that paid family leave helps businesses retain workers and avoid turnover – which ultimately helps reduce recruitment and training costs. Having access to paid family leave can also boost productivity, engagement, and loyalty among a business’ employees. 

Transcript in its entirety from yesterday's press conference:

Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Let’s have a big, warm round of applause for Sonia Ossorio, the President of NOW. We thank you very much for being here, we thank you for your support. NOW is a great organization statewide and with them behind us on paid family leave, we took a giant step forward. So thank you very much, Sonia Ossorio. 

To our great County Executive Steve Bellone. He did the longest list of acknowledgements in the shortest period of time, give him a round of applause. I obviously work with local elected officials all across this state and I’ve been in all sorts of situations with your County Executive. I’ve been through storms, hurricanes, rain, you name it, tough budgets, and tough legislative issues. He is an example of being in this business for all of the right reasons and he’s an example of a person who makes government work and gets things done. It’s a pleasure to be with you. Give him another round of applause.

Rich Schaeffer, sane thing. The Town of Babylon Supervisor who’s doing a great job. It’s a pleasure to be with you, Rich Schaeffer. Give him a round of applause. And Phil Ramos who brings the fire and the passion to these issues and he is just a great advocate statewide. It’s a pleasure to be with you, Assemblyman. 

You know I spent a little bit of time at home this weekend which is always nice. I put on the TV and it’s like 24 hours a day on this presidential election. Isn’t it amazing? Every channel. We just finished one debate, 20 minutes until the next debate and there is a little countdown clock. There’s one yelling at another, guys calling each other names, “Your mother this, your mother that.” Unbelievable. Really unbelievable. And all of the analysts come on, all of the talking heads: “Well the electorate is angry and they’re trying to connect with the angry electorate.” Yes, I understand that. The electorate is angry and they’re trying to connect with the angry electorate. 

First of all, I understand why people are angry. People are angry because the assemblyman is right. The economy is doing great – on one hand it’s doing great. In this state we’ve worked very hard to bring jobs to this state. I’ve made it the number one priority. We now have more private sector jobs than have ever existed before in the state of New York – 7.4 million jobs. So that’s great, right? What could be bad? You have more jobs than ever before, so everything must be great. No, everything is not great. Because the jobs we’re creating in this new economy – not just New York, but all across the country – they are different jobs than the jobs we had 20 years ago. They don’t pay as well, they don’t have the same benefit package, fewer people have tensions now in our society, fewer people have job security, fewer people have unions that equalize the playing field and got workers a better deal. It’s not that people just feel angry like they’re irrational, there are reasons that they are angry. I don’t even know that anger is the right word. I think anger comes second. Fear comes first, anxiety comes first, and they’re anxious, and they’re fearful and they should be. 

The middle class in this country is going backwards, not forwards. Earning potential for the middle class is going backwards. There was a time when CEOs made about 20 times what a worker makes. Now they make thousands of times what a worker makes. There was a time when productivity was linked to an increase in workers’ pay. The more productivity went up, the more workers got pay. Now productivity over the past few years went up 75 percent and pay went up 9 percent. So the middle class are being left behind and a salary is not what it used to be. $50, $60, $70,000 – boy, that was a great salary. You’re doing great if you make that. Yes, but not when property taxes are going up the way they’re going, the cost of living is going up the way it’s going. Try to pay a college tuition bill. Try. I don’t know who can afford a college tuition bill. Try to get a loan at an interest rate that’s going to saddle your kids for decades, trying to pay off student loans. This is not the way it was supposed to be, so we’re anxious. We’re afraid and that comes out as anger. 

The Assemblyman’s point is also profound. Now you have an angry electorate. What do you do with it? Well, if you want to play politics, you can take that anger and you can channel it and get people angry at something that serves you politically. The easiest thing to do is channel the anger to people who are different. They are different. Why? Because different always raises suspicion, right? You meet someone who is different, you get a little suspicious. So you channel the fear, you make an enemy, and the enemy is the people who are different. People who have different religions than you and believe different things. They’re the problem. People with a different skin color – they’re the problem. People who come from a different country. They’re the problem. People with a different sexual orientation than you – they’re the problem. Let’s just get rid of them and everything is going to be fine. That’s what their campaign comes down to, let’s be honest. We’ll make a list, we’ll write down all the people who are different – all the immigrants. Immigrants just became the icon for different. Make a list of all the immigrants, make a list, we’ll kick them all out. And then we’ll build a big wall so they can’t come back. A big wall – I mean a big wall, a high wall, a fancy wall, a huge wall. I’m not talking a little wall, I’m talking a wall like China built a wall. A wall like that. It’s going to be a big wall, no door in the wall, you can’t even come through the door if you wanted to. A little door, maybe, like a crawl space door. You’ll have to crawl one at a time. And that’s the answer. That is the answer. It sounds funny, but that’s the presidential dialogue, right? We’re scared, we’re angry, here is the target, it’s the people who are different, kick them out, and everything will be okay. 

First of all, that’s not who we are. You want to demonize differences, take a look at the Constitution of the United States. Take a look at the founding fathers. Take a look at a mirror. Kick out the immigrants? Who’s not an immigrant? What are you, a Native American? If you’re not a Native American, you’re an immigrant. So it’s antithetical to who we are and it is also no way towards progress. It’s a way to actually stymie progress and it is a great distraction to the real problems. What we are trying to do on our way here in New York is address the real problem. The middle-class is being left behind and the middle-class is not being treated with respect and they feel it and they sense it and no one is addressing it. So the answer is let’s address it. Because they are right, they are being left behind and we have two measures in this year’s legislative session that does just that. 

The first one is raise the minimum wage because you can’t live on $9 an hour. Raise the minimum wage to $15 so people can have a decent living. FDR signed the minimum wage law. When he signed the minimum wage law he said it should be a wage that allows a decent living. Not that you scrape by and you have to borrow – a decent living. Why? Because FDR was saying all work had dignity – and all work had respect – and I don’t care what you do if you’re working and you’re making your contribution, I respect it. Whatever you do. Whatever your trade, whatever your contribution. And if you work full time you should be above poverty. $9 an hour doesn’t do that. $18,000 a year you can’t live in the state of New York, you can’t pay for food and housing and expenses for your children – so raise the minimum wage that’s number one. 

And number two is what we are talking about today paid family leave. Why? Because in this new employee-employer relationship, it’s not just about the salary, it’s about the respect that the worker gets, it’s about the respect that the employee gets. Generations ago, different relationship with an employer – where the employee was more valued and employees could go to their boss and say look, I have a situation at home I need a few weeks off. And out of respect for our relationship would you do that for me? The chances are the employer would say yes, you have been with me a long time I value you, I respect the relationship, take a few weeks off. 

Not in this economy. In this economy too many employees are treated like a commodity. “If you leave I will get another one just like you. There are plenty of people just like you.” Right? Because this an economy where the people at the top have financial skills, financial analysts have access to finance. They are valuable. Everybody else is just a widget, just a commodity so chances are you go to an employer and say, “Look, I need a few weeks off.” They say, “Take a few weeks off, then take a few more weeks off and as a matter of fact don’t even bother coming back because I am going to replace you.” Now, work is important and productivity is important, but the County Executive is exactly right, that is not life. Life is not work, life is family, life is relationships, life is love. Life is nurturing. That is life, that is where we live and you should be able to live a decent life and work should not mean that you miss the precious moments at home, you miss the precious moments with a loved one, there is no more precious of a moment than when you have a child. I mean think back, what are the really beautiful times in life where you want to be there. Having a child, my god, that is my baby, we did that, being there for that and then a mother having the right to be there with her child, to bond with her child and to nurture her child not to have to run back to work but as Sonia said, to spend time getting the child a healthy start and making that connection and not just the mother. The father too has a right to be there and spend that time together. 

Now there is a federal law known as the Family Leave Act. An employer must give the employee 12 weeks of leave time, so Sonia and any woman can take off 12 weeks and they can’t fire you, there is one but though. You know what it is? But they don’t pay you, so they say, “Good, take off 12 weeks god bless you. I can’t fire you your job will be here.” But who is in a position in this economy to take off 12 weeks with no pay? Who can do that? No paycheck, all of those expenses for 12 weeks. I hate to be cynical but I think that is why Washington passed that law. Because it wasn’t going to cost them anything. We say paid family leave, 12 weeks, an employee-funded plan which pays an employee a portion of their salary for 12 weeks. So that you can actually take that leave time and still pay your bills and still pay for your family. It is not just child birth, not just the shining moments in life. It is also at the other end of the spectrum, right? Probably the two most powerful moments are birth and death. Someone is entering and someone is leaving. I went through it last year with my father, you have a loved one who gets sick, a loved one who is dying and you know it is coming. You want to be there, you should be there. 

My father was sick, the doctors said it was but a matter of time now, it is a matter of weeks. They sent him home and I would go to visit him and we would do what we do when there is not a lot left to talk about. We had talked about everything all of our lives but we had the important conversations and then he leapt into his running commentary of what I had done that day and what he read in the newspapers and what I should have done instead of what I did do. And the mistake I made yesterday and the mistake I made the week before and didn’t I pay attention, why didn’t I listen and maybe I was adopted and my mother never told him. But it is being there, it is just being there. It is being there to hold a hand, to smile and just being there because it is the right thing. It is right to be there. 

Now I had the option to be there. But I’ll tell you the God’s honest truth, I wasn’t there enough. I kick myself every day. There was always something important. “You have to be here, you have to be there, you really you can’t miss this, you can’t miss that.” It is all baloney. I don’t even remember what it was that was so important now. But I made a mistake, I should have been there. Family leave allows you to be there and that is where you should be, that is more important than work. You can be a care giver or just a hand holder, but you should be there. Paid family leave exists in almost every country around the globe just Surinam and Papua New Guinea don’t have paid family leave. And we call ourselves a sophisticated country. The United States of America, we are sophisticated. Yeah, except when we are not. 

Now, the Assemblyman was also right when he said this should be a slam dunk, right? Raising the minimum wage, everybody knows that $9 doesn’t work. Paid family leave unless you are in Papua or Suriname than it is a no-brainer right? Well it should be a no-brainer but it is not. The corporations that have to pay a higher minimum wage so they don’t want to pay it. Why? Because they don’t want to pay it. They would rather the money be in there pocket then in the pocket of the workers and if they don’t have to pay it they are not going to pay it. The big corporations are very powerful in our political system, why? Because the big corporations have big money goes into the political system and that gets them a lot of attention. So the minimum wage is a problem I am telling you that. Paid family leave, why? Because the employers don’t want the inconveniences of employees leaving. That is why. They would rather the employee be there so that they don’t have to deal with the disruption. So they oppose the minimum wage and they oppose paid family leave. They oppose the two essential issues which do justice for the middle class, that could actually start to alleviate the anger and the fear and the frustration and that could actually start to equalize the playing field. Those could actually make this economy work for everyone, rather than just the few. 

That’s the debate that’s going on in Albany. That’s the God’s honest truth. We need you to get engaged. We have three weeks. Three weeks and this decision is made. The legislators on Long Island is key to this discussion. If we win the legislators on Long Island, we win this statewide. We just need your representatives to support this proposal. We need Long Islanders to make their voice heard to their Assembly representative, to their Senate representative. We get them to support it, we’ll make this a reality. We’ll accomplish something no state in the nation has. We will have the highest minimum wage in the United States of America, which is a tremendous, big step towards economic justice and economic freedom. We will have the best paid family leave program in the United States of America also. 

And not only will we make life better for the people who we serve, because that’s what government is all about at the end of the day. It’s not about advocacy, it’s not about speech making, it’s about making a practical difference in people’s lives. These two bills will do just that and New York once again will show this nation the way forward and that’s what New York is all about. New York will say stop fighting, stop yelling, stop looking for a convenient enemy, stop looking for Assemblyman Ramos’ boogeyman. There is no boogeyman. The boogeyman is people are being mistreated and the economy is unequal and people require fairness and justice because that’s the American way. We restore fairness and you’ll see this country take off. Thank you and God bless you. 

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