Labor Day celebrates workforce; families still struggle to get by

ASHLAND, Ore.– Over three days, families will have the chance to spend some quality time together by going on trips or hanging out at home all thanks to Labor Day, a national holiday celebrating the social and economic accomplishments of the American worker.

While the weekend is mostly see as a day off from work, for many in the U.S. labor force, it’s an opportunity for many new parents and young families to enjoy the time not often found while at work.

In the Rogue Valley, many families took to Lithia Park to enjoy the day and time together.

“Taking advantage of the three day weekend to get up here and have a little bit of extra time to get together with family,” said Lynda Farrell, who drove up from California to see her new granddaughter.

Kellie Borror, a resident of the Phoenix-Talent area, came to the park with her family to kick back a little.

“Sometimes you have to ask for the day off but luckily I was able to go and get that for family that came into town,” she said.

But for all of the celebration and time off from the usual grind of work, some locals say the U.S. labor force still struggles, especially when it comes to parental leave.

According to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. still does not have paid family leave for workers while the other 33 countries included in the study provide, on average, 17 weeks of paid leave. Some of those included are Germany, United Kingdom, Australia, Mexico and France.

This doesn’t mean the U.S. isn’t providing leave at all. Many states do provide unpaid leave and four states (California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island) have passed paid leave laws but at the federal level, there is no national law to provide paid leave.

“There are a lot of different benefits to it,” said Michael Ann Mareck, a retired school teacher. “Mostly I think it’s sort of that very general one, of people not being so exhausted and having more time to pay attention to family.”

In Oregon, the Oregon Family Leave Act gives eligibility to employers with 25 or more employees or someone who has worked at least 25 hours per week over the last 180 days. From there an employee can receive 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

For some that may work but for others, 12 weeks unpaid isn’t possible – especially if you are having a child.

“You know that worked for us,” said Erin Zelinka. She and her partner Tyler Johnson recently had their daughter Mya.

“We’re together and we’re able to support ourselves but for some people I imagine it’s not enough,” she said. “I do have friends that have to go back after six weeks and that would be really hard.”

Zelinka said that she was able to get her 12 weeks unpaid and then had to receive more time to care for their daughter by taking short-term disability. Johnson said he had to cash in all of his sick pay for the year.

“I don’t know if that’s legally required but yeah he was really kind to do that, let me cash out all of it,” he said. “That really helped with the finance.”

However, as it was pointed out right after, Johnson didn’t have any sick leave available for the year causing a bind if that situation were to ever happen.

Certainly though not all families are strapped when it comes to getting paid family leave. While at the national level there remains indecision, private companies can decide much faster whether to provide paid leave or not and even state government employees had some of the highest numbers of access to paid leave. That’s according to a Pew Research Center article that cited National Compensation Survey data showing in a 2016 study, 19 percent of state government workers received paid leave while across the country only 14 percent of all civilian workers received this benefit.

Some may be able to get by but for the majority of the population, all that’s available for growing families is unpaid leave. While the process will take time and discussions revolving around how the program might be paid for continue – government requiring employers to pay for their employees or let the employer decide themselves to pay or not.

This Labor Day has brought families together again to enjoy the time off and how the idea of a healthier work force is necessity that should come sooner rather than later.

“I’m glad for what we have right now and very, very aware what we need to push for,” said Mareck. “That which would be really helpful to the whole picture of employment and meaningful family life.”

NBC5 News Reporter Miles Furuichi graduated from Chapman University with degrees in English and Journalism. He received post graduate experience in Los Angeles in photojournalism and commercial photography. He also spent time in Dublin, Ireland working in print journalism and advertising.

Miles is a Rogue Valley native, raised in Ashland. He enjoys hiking, mountain biking and photography.

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