By Randy George
It's time for the Senate to follow the House’s lead in supporting our workforce and ensuring that Vermonters can take care of their families and their health without sacrificing their livelihoods. As a small business owner in Vermont, and a member of Main Street Alliance, I urge the Legislature, especially the Vermont Senate, to pass a universal paid family and medical leave (PFML) program this year.
We employee about 50 individuals and on a daily basis we witness the challenges of balancing work and personal responsibilities. Our employees are the lifeblood of our business, and we want to support them in every way possible. But when faced with the need to take time off to care for a newborn, a sick family member or recover from an illness or injury, many of our employees are forced to choose between their job and their family's well-being. This is not only unfair, but it also puts a tremendous burden on our workforce and our communities. H.66 would establish a statewide PFML program that provides employees with a percentage of their wages while they take time off to care for their family members or address their own health needs. It would ensure that our employees can take the time they need without worrying about losing their paychecks or their jobs.
PFML is not only the right thing to do for our employees, but it also makes good business sense. When employees have access to paid leave, they are more likely to return to work after taking time off. This reduces turnover and hiring costs for small businesses like mine. It also improves employee morale, productivity and loyalty, which are all critical factors for the success of any business.
I understand that implementing a paid family and medical leave insurance program will require some financial investment, it is quite clear that this is a worthwhile investment for the long-term wellbeing of our workforce and our state. We only need to look to the seven other states that have PFMLA programs to see that paid leave programs bring positive results, including improved health outcomes, increased gender equity and reduced reliance on public assistance programs.
We, like most members of Main Street Alliance, don't have the resources of larger corporations that provide robust paid leave benefits. A statewide program would level the playing field and ensure that all Vermont businesses, regardless of their size, can compete in recruiting workforce by providing this critical benefit to employees. Additionally, we all know that the current labor market is tighter than it has been in a very long time. Although the current U.S. unemployment rate is historically low, Vermont’s is lower than most other states. Just in the last year, we have seen a number of prospective employees from other Northeast states turn down job offers from us after finding that moving to Vermont was not a feasible option. As workers evaluate the feasibility of moving from other Northeast states like Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York or New Jersey, they find that they would be giving up paid leave by moving to Vermont. A PFMLA program would remove this competitive disadvantage as we vie with other states for employees.
I want to do right by my employees and my community. I want to be able to provide them with the support they need to take care of their families and their health without jeopardizing their jobs. These are true small business values — and we share them with small business owners throughout Vermont and across the country. That's why I am calling on the Vermont Senate to pass a paid family and medical leave insurance program legislation this session. It's time for Vermont to join the growing number of states that have recognized the importance of paid leave and take this critical step towards building a stronger, healthier and more equitable workforce for our state.
Randy George is co-owner of Red Hen Baking Co. in Middlesex, VT.