Economic security in Md. requires family-friendly legislation

Op-ed: Economic security is a reproductive justice issue.

Families are struggling in Maryland's working economy. Too many experience no guarantee for sick leave, difficulty paying for child care, fluctuating job schedules, and pregnancy-related workplace discrimination. These issues put a strain on parents and their ability to raise healthy families. As Marylanders, we should be striving for economic opportunities for everyone to flourish. Economic security is a reproductive justice issue, and that's why we are fighting for it.

As an advocate for reproductive health, rights and justice, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland strives to ensure every individual has the freedom to decide if, when and how many children to have. These decisions are heavily dependent on economic security because deciding how and when to form our families can be based on how well we are paid, our ability to negotiate for a higher salary, whether we can access consistent child care and if we can take paid sick leave when either we are sick or our children are. We cannot achieve reproductive justice if people are struggling to keep their jobs while raising their families. That's why we are supporting many measures currently being heard in the General Assembly that will improve economic security and reproductive justice in Maryland.

For workers who need reproductive health care, time is precious. More than half of working women — 54 percent — lack access to earned sick days. Lack of earned paid or unpaid sick leave can influence contraceptive access and pregnancy-decision making. Delayed access to prenatal care and testing can be detrimental to a mother's or child's health. Giving birth or recovering from a miscarriage becomes more stressful for people who aren't earning the pay necessary to cover basic needs such as housing and food. New parents need time to go to doctor's visits to check on the health of their baby; they do not need to be overwhelmed with stress over keeping their job and paying their bills.

The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, if passed, will benefit hard-working families by allowing full-time employees to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked and allowing part-time employees to earn leave as well.

On the other hand, Gov. Larry Hogan's proposal, the Commonsense Paid Leave Act, is not commonsense at all. His bill would leave out hundreds of thousands of Marylanders and provide little more than an empty benefit to those who already have paid leave. The only workers who would benefit from the bill would be those employed with companies of over 50 people at a single work site.

The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act also calls for the right for employees to earn safe leave, something that Governor Hogan's bill appears to ignore. Victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and/or stalking should not be placed in further crisis by having to choose between timely health care or intervention and loss in pay or job. Recovery from a serious crime should not result in financial jeopardy or job insecurity.

Fair scheduling and child care are also reproductive justice issues. Unstable, unpredictable work schedules over which employees have little control too often undermine the ability of workers to provide for themselves. These issues affect responsibilities outside of work, such as child care and pursuing an education. Child care, already barely affordable for so many, is harder to keep with a constantly changing schedule. If a worker is asked to stay an hour over a shift, this can lead to a fine from the child care provider. Parents may not be able to attend classes if they do not have access to affordable child care. This can interrupt strides parents are making for themselves to better improve their job prospects. These issues make it harder for families to thrive in Maryland.

Another issue we are concerned about it that pregnant employees can be forced to take paid or unpaid leave when a reasonable accommodation would allow them to continue to work and support their families. This is why we are advocating for measures requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations to allow pregnant workers remain on the job, as well as clarifying how employers should allow for lactation-related accommodations, such as providing time and space to pump breast milk. New mothers should not have to pump in bathrooms and closets to navigate parenthood and employment.

Families are depending on policies like these to support themselves and raise their children. Supporting economic justice within the reproductive justice construct goes hand in hand. Maryland workers deserve protection in the work force. We support working families in the fight for economic justice.

Diana Philip is executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland; her email is diana@prochoicemd.org.

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