Student group urges community to lobby D.C. Council for paid leave

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Savannah Shepard.

The GW chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, a group that pushes for progressive legislation, hosted representatives from Jews United for Justice Tuesday to discuss ways students can advocate for the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015.

The bill, which was proposed by Council member David Grosso in the D.C. Council last week, would offer 16 weeks of paid leave to employees who either live or work in D.C. It would be the most generous paid leave plan in the country, and would include GW employees.

Representatives in attendance were Joanna Blotner from Jews United for Justice’s Paid Family Leave Campaign, Jeremiah Lowery, a former Restaurant Opportunities Center activist, and Hannah Weilbacher, a community organizer with Jews United for Justice.

The event was co-sponsored by the Feminist Student Union and the Progressive Student Union.

Here are some key takeaways about the discussion:

1. Key points of a bill

Currently, 12 perecent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave through their employers to care for a new child or seriously ill family member, according to a pamphlet handed out at the meeting. In addition, only 40 percent of people have access to personal medical leave through short term disability insurance provided through their jobs, Blotner said.

The bill would help D.C. residents “have access to these basic support structures,” and not “left to privilege or luck,” Blotner said. It would also cover men and women and incentivizes them to take leave to support their families and personal lives. Employees would get their full pay, up to $3,000 a week while they are on leave.

The bill is an “all encompassing, personal medical leave as well, so it affects everyone,” Blotner said.

2. Importance of the bill

Surveys of new parents demonstrate that four, six, or even 12 weeks is not enough time for paid leave, Blotner said. Parents could take off to care for a new child, both after giving birth and after newly adopting, to take care of sick relatives and for sick leave.

“Fundamental development happens in the first few weeks of a child’s life,” and without parents to guide that advancement, “a child can never recover,” Blotner said.

3. Ways to lobby the D.C. Council

The bill, though it was co-sponsored by seven of the 13 Council members in D.C., has only been introduced into the D.C. Council and may not necessarily be enacted as a law. The group discussed ways to lobby Council members to support the bill and give it the best chance for passing.

“It’s more to think and create a bill, [we] need real grassroots pressure to the DC council,” Weilbacher said.

Weilbacher recommended lobbying Council members by writing letters, requesting to meet face-to-face and making phone calls. The organizers also suggested lobbying the chair of the D.C. Council, Phil Mendelson, and Jack Evans, the Council member who represents Ward 2, which includes GW’s campus.

Weilbacher added that it would be helpful to the cause to “pack the D.C. Council Hall, be there, be supportive, and share stories that make this issue personal to you.”

Representatives at the meeting also recommended giving attention to the cause through social media and using related hashtags, like #PaidLeave4DC and #LeadOnLeave.

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