Feb 3, 2016 · 6 min read

Introducing PL+US: Paid Leave for the United States By Katie Bethell

My story There was one time when I desperately needed help: It was after a major surgery, and for days I couldn’t walk and for weeks it hurt to do anything. On top of it alI, thanks to that C-section, I had a brand new baby to learn to feed and hold and change and soothe and bathe.

Me and my daughter: Day 1

I’ve needed to help others, too. My father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and it wasn’t a question — we needed to be there to take care of Roger and to support Sally, who was losing her husband of nearly 40 years. My husband held his dad’s hand in those final hours. No one should be alone through that. Not anyone.

The people we love will always need help. I will always need help, and so will you. In the United States, right now, we have an opportunity to make help possible, for millions of people, with paid family leave

Roger and Adam

The Problem The U.S. is one of only two countries in the world that doesn’t have paid maternity leave as a public standard. Only 13% of private sector employees in the U.S. have paid family leave, while most other countries have it as a matter of public policy.

But for the vast majority of employed people in the U.S., when those we care about need us most, we must ask ourselves, “Can I afford to be there?”

Family and medical leave is such a needed, humane, human, public policy. I started advocating for it 10 years ago when I was part of the founding team at We said the same things then that we do now: Why doesn’t the U.S. have this policy? It shouldn’t take this much work to convince people that it’s important to be there with your dying parents or a brand-new baby!

There’s a national paid family and medical leave policy proposal in Congress right now. With the hard work and support of hundreds of organizations, the FAMILY Act has garnered policymaker, media, business, and popular attention. As the National Partnership for Women & Families describes it: The FAMILY Act would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for working people’s own serious health condition; the serious health condition of a child, parent, spouse, or domestic partner; the birth or adoption of a child; and for some military caregiving and leave purposes.

It’s a modest and reasonable proposal that touches on the heart of the family values our political leaders love to espouse. But the FAMILY Act still hasn’t made it out of its first congressional committee. What’s going on?

The FAMILY Act has a long road to becoming law.

It’s pretty simple: We don’t have enough power yet.

Despite support for family leave, we haven’t yet achieved the urgency needed to move national policy forward in this political environment. We’ve had sophisticated and multifaceted policy campaigns, editorials, and even a TedTalk. But if you ask a regular person on the street about family leave, they are very likely to say, “What’s that?” or “I’m lucky, I got a whole week off after my baby was born.”

Family leave is an issue that affects everybody, but it suffers from a lack of public understanding, coupled with ideological and identity barriers that limit our ability to grow power and win.

When folks think about family and medical leave today, they probably imagine the picture right at the top of this blog post — a white, professional woman with new baby. As family leave becomes a necessary policy for tech companies looking to attract top talent, the rest of the country sees inequality grow. This narrative tells the public that family leave is something that only the elite in our country need or — worse — deserve. That leaves millions of potential advocates out of the conversation.

Our Strategy I’m founding PL+US to grow grassroots power to win paid family and medical leave for everyone in America. With PL+US, we’re building a single-issue organization to create a robust gateway to advocacy — by everybody.

In our first six months, we’ll begin that work with three key initiatives:

  • Corporate engagement. We’re based in San Francisco, where business leaders are taking the initiative to put in place excellent family leave policies and are speaking out about the need for a new public policy. In the coming weeks, we’ll be rolling out a corporate listening tour to understand how companies want to engage with this issue and be leaders nationwide, to ensure that everyone working in the U.S. can benefit from these policies.
  • #EqualParents Initiative: The status quo of parental leave in the U.S. too often allows for leave that is unequal between men and women, birth and non-birth parents or adoptive parents, and low-wage and high-wage employees. With the #EqualParents Initiative, we’ll take the best practices of public policy and invite leading companies to ensure that their policies meet these standards by leveraging popular and media support for the #EqualParents framework. As a consequence, we’ll bring meaningful information about paid family leave to millions of Americans.
  • Selected national, state, and local legislative engagement: Working in partnership with local and national coalition leaders, we’ll add digital organizing capacity and media campaigning to legislative advocacy efforts.

What winning looks like Remember the financial crisis of 2008, when so many people lost their jobs? We have a system in place — unemployment insurance — that was, and is, a lifeline to millions of families. The stress and anguish of losing a job is relieved in part by the knowledge that there will still be money coming in, saving families from homelessness, bankruptcy, and hunger.

We know that babies will be born and people will need care in the same way we know that people will lose jobs, yet we don’t have a simple program in place to help people through those periods.

Imagine the collective sigh of relief, the millions of lives improved, when we win this policy. Think about that moment with your dad, as he takes his final breaths. Or the moment with your daughter, as she takes her first.

Let’s get started Today is our first public announcement of PL+US, and we’re so excited to get started. In the coming weeks, we’ll be rolling out new campaigns, building our team, fundraising, growing our partnerships, and so much more.

You can help us. First, join PL+US so you can be the first to hear about our upcoming campaigns. Then, consider how the lack of paid leave affects your family, your friends, your coworkers. Are they protected if a profound life event comes calling? Start the conversation, and invite them to join our efforts by sharing this blog.

Finally, help us find talented and inspired folks to join our team, either as staff or on a short-term contract basis. We’re building our founding team now, looking for highly skilled and talented campaigns, communications, and development professionals to help us build our powerful new organization. If you know a fantastic someone who has a passion for family leave, tell them about us.

I can’t wait to start this work with you. Let’s win this.

Katie Bethell is the founder and Executive Director of PL+US: Paid Leave for the United States. She lives in San Francisco.

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Paid Family Leave for everyone working in the U.S.