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Fairhaven woman and local advocates work for paid family leave

Sunday, 14 June 2015

A Rhode Island native, Lavault died at the age of 70. He was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War and a retired maintenance worker at PACE. He was that type of sweet man that everyone loved, his wife said. While her husband died in 1998, Lavault, now a Fairhaven resident, continues to regret not being there for him in his last days. This year, she began calling neighbors and knocking on doors as a volunteer for The Coalition for Social Justice’s chapter in New Bedford to advocate for the proposed Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave Act. The coalition, based in Fall River, is a 20-year-old grassroots organization dedicated to alleviating poverty. “It would help a lot of families. When they’re in crisis, they have to make a decision — do you work or take care of a loved one,” said Lavault. “It would give people some time to make sure their loved one gets the care they need. Maybe I could have searched out more help for him.” The Coalition for Social Justice has spearheaded the campaign for a state Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, along with Raise Up Massachusetts, a statewide community faith-based, labor organization. The groups’ push follows their successful campaigns last year to win legislation to increase the minimum wage and to win access to paid sick days for part-time employees. “It’s quite awful to come down with a serious illness and watch everything you worked for be taken away because lack of income,” said Deb Fastino, executive director of the Coalition and co-chair of Raise Up Massachusetts. The bill would also support women, Fastino said, who are often the ones to stay home to care for a sick family member. It would help narrow the income gap, Fastino said. The legislation has strong support with about 77 co-sponsors, including Sen. Mark Montigny of New Bedford. The bill, introduced by Sen. Karen Spilka of Ashland and Rep. Ken Gordon of Bedford, is before the Labor and Workforce Development Committee. A research committee is conducting a cost-benefit analysis on the proposal with funding by the U.S. Department of Labor. The study is expected in October. According to the coalition, nearly 40 percent of Massachusetts workers, about 1.2 million, are excluded from job protected leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act because they work for companies with fewer than 50 employees. Under the bill, Massachusetts workers would become eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a newborn, newly adopted or new foster child or for a sick family member and up to 26 weeks of job-protected leave to recover from his or her own serious illness or injury. The bill would also make employees eligible for temporary disability benefits based on a percentage of a worker’s income. The movement for paid time off has received widespread momentum this year with federal and state bills pending. President Barack Obama elevated the issue this year in his State of the Union address. Obama has asked Congress to provide $2 billion to help states create paid family and medical leave programs, according to The Associated Press. The United States is the only industrialized country that doesn’t require paid leave for new parents. Only three states — California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey — currently have laws in place for paid time off.

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