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Paid Family Leave Clears Committee

A paid family leave law cleared an early hurdle January 30, winning a 10-5 vote of approval from the Minnesota House Labor Committee. It was referred to the House Commerce Committee. But with no Senate companion yet, getting paid family leave on the books in Minnesota is still an open question this session.

Several Minnesota food service and hospitality businesses have been involved in the push for a paid family leave law, appearing at events January 22 to raise awareness of the issue. They described having to pull extra hours and rack up more costs, so that valued employees could be retained.

HF5 would provide for 12 weeks of medical leave with partial wages and/or 12 weeks of family leave to bond with a new baby or care for a sick loved-one. The state-run program would be much like Minnesota’s unemployment insurance program and would provide partial reimbursement for wages lost when workers take needed leaves. 

The Minnesotans for Paid Family and Medical Leave Coalition gave a preview January 22, holding a press conference with lead authors Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan) and Sen. Susan Kent (DFL – Woodbury) and a roundtable with small business owners. 

Only 13 percent of Minnesota workers currently have paid family and medical leave through their employers, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. 

The proposed Paid Family and Medical Leave would allow all workers up to 12 paid weeks off to take care of family members and up to 12 paid weeks for long-term medical care, including childbirth. The wage compensation would be partial and on a sliding scale. A coalition of groups including the Main Street Alliance, is working to get the legislation passed. The legislation would require a new 0.31 percent payroll contribution from both employers and employees.

“There is no reason that this shouldn’t be a tremendous bipartisan win for the state,” said Kent. “It’s good for families and would be such a benefit, regardless of where you are on the political aisle.”

 “All Minnesotans deserve to be successful,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Fridley). “We’ve heard from so many families who are choosing between caring for a loved one and earning a paycheck. Other states have done this.” 

Business owners at the Main Street Alliance event described the lack of paid family leave as creating a crisis for small businesses. Some small businesses offer paid family leave because it is the right thing to do, but don’t have the resources large corporations have. When more than one worker has a need for leave, it can create huge problems.

Business owners said they’d be willing to pay into a fund similar to what they do for unemployment insurance.

Dan Schwartzman, owner of Uptown Minneapolis’ Common Roots café, has 50 workers. “We small-business owners need a community solution for this,” he said. “It’s not something we can do on our own.”

Bluebird Cakery has bakeries in Faribault and Mankato. Owner Kelsey Willison has about 15 employees at each location. “We have a deep relationship with our employees,” Willison said. Training cake bakers and decorators takes time, and she wants to be able to provide paid family leave and not lose trained workers. But the cost is high and not attainable for small businesses.

“There’s this little bit of panic. What are you going to do?” Willison said.

Dan Swenson Klatt, owner of the Butter Bakery Café in southwest Minneapolis, said that running a business that pays fair wages and offers paid time off is costly. “I have bakers who are the key to opening shop every morning,” he said. Last year Swenson-Klatt and other workers covered shifts so that pone employee could have paid time off with a new baby.

He has other workers who have emerged from homelessness and face chronic health issues. Swenson-Klatt wants to keep those workers and others, but if someone needed a paid leave, he’s not sure how that would be covered again.

Sarah Piepenberg, owner of Vinaigrette, an oils and vinegars stores in Excelsior and Minneapolis, recently had an employee break both of her arms. She needed several weeks off, so Piepenberg and her family have pitched in to cover shifts. That meant finding care for their three children and juggling schedules.

The injured employee, who is at retirement age, needs her job, Piepenberg said. “She had no idea how she was going to pay her rent or for her food.” But making the sacrifice and helping the injured employee meant missing her own mortgage payment.

And now another Vinaigrette employee needs hip replacement surgery. “I’ve got to tell you, I’m terrified,” Piepenberg said.

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