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Worker advocates call for broader paid family leave in Georgia

Workers advocates in Georgia are pushing for further expansion of paid family leave after state lawmakers passed legislation to give state employees up to three weeks of time off following the birth of a child.

Representatives from several Georgia nonprofits met Friday to call for a broader paid family and medical leave program that offers up to 12 weeks of leave for new parents, sick leave for surgery or serious medical treatment and extending eligibility to care for a family member beyond one’s child.

A more comprehensive paid-leave program would help boost morale for Georgia employees and curb instances of health complications or death stemming from pregnancy, local advocates said.

“This is an important first step in the right direction toward supporting working families in Georgia,” Allison Glass, a training coordinator with the national women’s advocacy group 9to5’s Georgia chapter, said of the recent legislation on three-weeks paid family leave for state employees, which Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law earlier this month.

“[But] three weeks is not enough time and the vast majority of Georgians are still without any paid family or medical need whatsoever. … We believe that Georgia can lead the way in making paid leave accessible to all working Georgians.”

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, gained wide support from state lawmakers and advocates who hailed the measure as a boost for local businesses and workers, particularly amid the economic struggles over the past year caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is estimated to benefit about 246,000 state workers and teachers and will apply to parents following the birth of a child of their own, an adopted child or a foster-care placement.

The new Georgia leave program could come in addition to a proposed federal paid-family leave program included in President Joe Biden’s legislative package on worker protections and child tax credits called the American Families Plan.

Details of the federal leave program are still being hashed out by Congress, advocates noted Friday. Biden so far has called for passing a program that expands the definition of who could receive paid leave to workers caring for extended family members and close loved ones not related by blood.

Calling the Georgia legislation a good start, local advocates pressed for state lawmakers to expand the new leave program to cover all workers beyond state employees and teachers as well as adopt 12 weeks of time off, arguing the current three weeks gives too little time for new mothers to bond with their infants.

“When parents can dedicate their time to building bonds and increasing interactions post-partum, they are not only laying a strong foundation for their child but also creating the conditions for supporting the varying needs of new parenthood,” said Kyesha Lindberg, executive director of the nonprofit Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia.

Advocates also stressed an expanded leave program would particularly benefit members of Georgia’s immigrant communities who work in chicken-processing plants, fueling the state’s massive poultry industry.

“Paid leave for immigrant workers is so crucial,” said Maria Del Rosario Palacios, executive director of the Gainesville-based volunteer group Georgia Familias Unidas. “You can honor the contribution of so many amazing immigrant workers that work 14-hour shifts every single day and do so with pride, by allowing them paid leave.”

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