Why Paid Leave Matters to North Dakota Working Families

Across North Dakota, I’ve heard from working families who are both diligent employees as well as dedicated to their loved ones. But too often in our state — where nearly half of the state’s private-sector workforce can’t earn a single paid sick day to care for a loved one, whether a newborn, a sick child, or an elderly parent — workers are forced to choose between their families and their jobs. It’s a choice most can’t afford to make, nor should they have to.

At the same time, many small businesses can’t afford to offer paid leave benefits to employees, forcing good employees to leave their jobs when then need to take care of a newborn or family member. These small businesses face great financial risks if they need to replace a worker, on average spending one-fifth an employee’s salary to do just that.

North Dakota prides itself on both its strong work ethic and family-friendly communities, but it’s clear we need to make a commonsense policy change to help both working families and small businesses plan for the future. That’s why helped reintroduced U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would help employers and employees invest together in a strong federal paid leave policy as an earned benefit, so that North Dakota families — caregivers, mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents alike — can balance the important life and health events that matter most to their loved ones, without risking their jobs. Currently, the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. But with the FAMILY Act, we can change that.

Here are a few stories from North Dakotans who, often with the help of strong paid leave policies in their workplaces, have been able to continue their work as diligent, healthy employees, while caring for their loved ones as caregivers, or new mothers and fathers. These stories reinforce why all working families need access to strong paid leave policies in the workplace, which the FAMILY Act would accomplish.

Courtney Workman — Jamestown, N.D.

Courtney (right) with her husband, Andrew (left), and their daughter Sullivan (center).

“Bringing our daughter, Sullivan, home from the hospital and becoming parents for the first time was the most thrilling experience of our lives for my husband and me. But as an adoptive parent, I didn’t qualify to use the same amount of paid leave from my office to care for and connect with our baby girl the way other new parents are — time I had diligently saved for these precious moments. But our family was blessed with incredible support from our friends and family — who surprised us by setting up a crib in the nursery when we brought Sulli home, and helped us change the law in North Dakota so all new parents are recognized. That’s why I’m proud to support Senator Heitkamp’s effort to make sure new moms and dads have the time they need to bond and support a new child. Now at two years old, my daughter is singing, dancing, and warming the hearts of every new person she meets. Senator Heitkamp understands that every new parent — and every child — deserves those first few crucial moments to cherish and get to know one another and give a new child needed care. And I’m proud to support her effort to make sure all new parents, including adoptive parents, have the time they need to bond.”

Rose (right) with her mother, Maudie (left).

Rose Stoller — Bismarck, N.D.

“My mom has always been an independent person — for years she ran The Owl Bookstore in Bismarck, and worked in the state government. But when she took a fall two years ago at 91 years old, she wasn’t able to live safely on her own anymore. Now that my mom lives with me, having the flexibility at work to take her to doctors’ appointments, pick up her prescriptions — and just know that if anything happens I can be there for her — has been a godsend. As the director of a nonprofit, I know that businesses and families work better when employees like me can care for their loved ones when they’re needed most. That’s why Senator Heitkamp’s work to stand up for working families is so critical and the FAMILY Act would give caregivers the paid leave they need to care for a sick family member. And I’m proud to stand with her.”

Amy Long — Fargo, N.D.

Amy (right) with her husband Jim (left), with their children Connor (far left), Will (top right), and baby Henry (bottom center).

“When my husband and I welcomed our third little surprise baby, Henry, we knew that this time we could breathe a sigh of relief. Like so many North Dakotans, the time I was able to take when I had my first two children — and my compensation during that time — was pretty limited. Like so many moms and dads, I grew to learn just how crucial those first few months are — and so does Senator Heitkamp. That’s why as a full-time employee in her Fargo office, I knew that when we welcomed baby Henry just about a week before Christmas, my family would have the support and the time we needed to bond and effectively care for him. Now that Henry is cooing, recognizing his family, and growing like a weed, I feel so fortunate to have had the paid leave a mom needs to care for her baby. But I know that too many working families across North Dakota don’t have that same opportunity — that’s why I’m proud to be a part of Senator Heitkamp’s push to make North Dakota a better place for working families — so that someday my kids will want to raise their families and grow their businesses right here at home.”

Brad Bergstad — Bismarck, N.D.

Brad with his son Reed (left), and his daughter Julia (right).

“My son Reed is a bit of a rascal. When he was born, he needed a virtual army to get him to sleep at night — and with paternity leave, my wife and I made the perfect team. Without it, working 12 hour shifts in Beulah and commuting two hours to and from Bismarck wouldn’t have left me much time to get to know and care for my son — let alone make sure my wife and I were getting enough sleep. And when our daughter, Julia, was born two years later, we were able to use our patented system through midnight feeding shifts to care during the day — and since infant daycare in our area is close to non-existent — we definitely needed it. Senator Heitkamp understands not just how important it is for both parents to bond with their child, but for families like ours and for businesses across our state to work together as a team through times when working families need to be just that — working and a family. By getting practical with policies like her paid leave bill, we might not be able to get kids like my son to sleep at night, but we can make sure parents and businesses stay strong and healthy.”

Josie Danz — Fargo, N.D.

Josie (right) with her dad, Greg (left).

“When my dad and uncle first set out to start Zandbroz in Fargo, they wanted to create a feeling of an extended family. With fine pens, books, and gifts, our store is about more than just a place to find a present for a loved one — it’s a core part of our community where our friends and neighbors come to find something that feels like home. And that feeling of family extends to more than just our customers. At Zandbroz, I know that if one of my colleagues needs to care for a loved one or has a medical condition, our team will make sure they have the time they need to tend to family matters, as well as their own health. As North Dakota natives, we know family and health come first. It’s clear that’s something Senator Heitkamp understands, too, and it’s why we’re proud to support her efforts to make North Dakota a better place for working families and businesses for years to come.”