It’s Time for Paid Family and Medical Leave in Wisconsin

On June 6, Governor Walker missed an opportunity to improve the lives of hard working families in Wisconsin. The U.S. Department of Labor was accepting grant applications from states, localities and tribes to research, analyze and develop paid family and medical leave programs. We and forty of our colleagues wrote a letter to Governor Walker urging him to apply for a grant. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Wisconsin failed to submit a grant application by the deadline.

States such as California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have successful paid family and medical leave programs. Unfortunately, Wisconsin families are left to deal with the nightmare scenario of having to choose between caring for a newborn or a sick loved one and the dire financial consequences of taking unpaid leave. Far too many Wisconsin families cannot afford to take unpaid leave and are forced to keep working in order to make their house or rent payment and put food on the table. We believe the citizens of Wisconsin should have better options.

That’s why this past legislative session we introduced Senate Bill 385 and Assembly Bill 516. These bills created a Family Medical Leave Insurance program completely paid for by employees. Under the program a participating employee is eligible to receive a percentage of their pay during the time they take family or medical leave from work. The program would not have cost employers any money. Employees pay for the benefit by contributing a certain percentage of their check into a trust fund. The percentage was to be determined by Department of Workforce Development in consultation with Office of the Commissioner of Insurance.

In addition, these bills sought to expand Wisconsin’s current Family Medical Leave law by allowing employees to take family leave to care for anyone covered under the current law plus grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, and any eligible employee who has an eligible family member deployed overseas by the military. Our Family Medical Leave law needs updating to reflect the dynamics of modern families.

Senate Bill 385 had a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform this January and the testimony was overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal. Unfortunately, neither of these bills passed.

The positive impacts of having a paid family medical leave for working families in Wisconsin are far too significant to pass up and we will continue to fight until Wisconsin has enacted a paid leave program.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, paid maternity leave increases female labor force participation by making it easier for women to stay in the workforce after giving birth, which contributes to economic growth.

Paid leave increases worker retention and reduces turnover, saving businesses significant costs associated with replacing employees. In California, 89 percent to 99 percent of employers say paid family medical leave has had no effect or a positive one on productivity, profitability, turnover and morale, according to a report by Ruth Milkman, a sociologist at the Graduate Center, City University New York and Eileen Appelbaum, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Eighty-seven percent say it has not increased costs. Nine percent say they saved money, because of decreased turnover or benefit payments.

If you would like to join our fight for paid family medical leave please sign the petition at


State Senator Janis Ringhand and Representative Sondy Pope