Opinion: To achieve gender equality, our state legislators must pass paid leave NOW

To achieve gender equality, our state legislators must pass paid leave NOW

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By Rachele Fortier

June 27, 2024

In this op-ed, Rachele Fortier, State Director of Family Friendly Pennsylvania, explains the importance of passing the Family Care Act to establish a bipartisan statewide paid family and medical leave program. This program is crucial for achieving gender equality, supporting mothers’ health, stabilizing the workforce, improving business productivity, and maintaining the state’s economic growth.

In Pennsylvania, we have the opportunity to lead our Commonwealth into the future by establishing a bipartisan statewide paid family and medical leave program. The Family Care Act (HB 181/SB 580) has been waiting for a final House floor vote since December; a companion bill was just cleared by committee in the Senate on a bipartisan vote two weeks ago. 

If we want to achieve gender equality in Pennsylvania, our legislators need to pass this legislation. The evidence is clear. A state paid leave program will support mothers, improve birth outcomes, help stabilize the workforce and boost the capacity of Pennsylvania’s businesses to recruit and retain talent and increase productivity and profitability.  

Access to paid leave can improve mothers’ mental and physical health by reducing stress and increasing the likelihood of obtaining healthcare following the birth of their baby. As a result, mothers who have access to paid leave are more prepared to reenter and remain in the workforce after having a baby.

In the United States, there are currently 14 statewide paid leave programs, which includes our neighboring states of New Jersey, New York, Delaware and Maryland. Business owners in states with existing paid leave programs report that access to paid leave has had a direct positive effect on their businesses. To remain economically competitive in the region by recruiting and retaining young families in Pennsylvania, we must do the same.

Approximately 90,000 private employers in Pennsylvania offer some level of paid family and medical leave benefits to their workforce. Yet 71% of all private companies, employing 3.5 million Pennsylvania employees, are not offering paid family and medical leave benefits at all. Enacting a state-based paid family and medical leave program will improve business conditions and boost productivity for companies that cannot afford to provide these benefits without the support of a statewide program.

Impossible choices between work and family are forcing employees, especially women – nearly half of Pennsylvania’s labor force – out of their jobs. The resulting loss of income places many families in dire financial situations and contributes to the gender pay gap. Access to a paid leave program would allow talented employees to keep their jobs while caring for their families or their own health, resulting in better financial stability for families and higher rates of employee retention for employers. Furthermore, evidence has shown that those who had access to paid leave are more likely to earn raises and promotions following leave.

The implementation of a statewide paid family and medical leave program is vital to the future of Pennsylvania’s economic growth. I am calling on our legislators to support Pennsylvania’s businesses, workforce, and economic competitiveness by passing a statewide paid family and medical leave program that benefits both employees and businesses across the Commonwealth.


  • Rachele Fortier

    Rachele Fortier is the State Director of Family Friendly Pennsylvania, building grassroots support to pass policies that uplift working families and make our communities stronger. Prior to FFPA, she most recently managed Eugene DePasquale’s 2020 campaign for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 10th congressional district. Before joining the DePasquale campaign, Fortier managed Philadelphia City Councilmember At-Large Helen Gym’s re-election campaign. She worked in opposition research at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2012 to 2016 and was the Research Director on Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s 2018 re-election campaign. Fortier earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Spanish from McDaniel College and is originally from Central New Jersey. She is the Board Co-Chair of Liberty City, Philadelphia's LGBTQ+ Democratic Club. In her free time, she likes to tend to her growing houseplant collection, go to concerts, and improve her DIY skills.

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