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Faith leaders urge Albany to approve paid family leave

Avery Schneider

Faith leaders from both the Christian and Jewish communities of Western New York have teamed up with labor advocates in the fight for paid family leave.

Speaking in Buffalo, Friday morning, the group urged the state senate and Governor Cuomo to pass a law that would provide for twelve weeks of paid leave for various circumstances. A number of the religious leaders, like Reverend Justo Gonzalez, Executive Director of the Western New York Peace Center, have experienced the struggles families go through when they can’t afford to take time off and care for loved ones.

Reverend Gonzalez recalled the story of a woman named Melody, whose son Ryan was born with heart problems. Ryan spent months in the hospital, and Melody couldn’t both be employed and be with him. At first she quit her job, but ultimately could not live without income.

“When Ryan did die,” Gonzalez said, “We had to call mom, and she had to run back to the hospital because she was back at work, because she couldn’t afford to be away.”

Under current law, employees have the right to up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave. It covers events like child birth or adoption, caring for a seriously ill loved one, or dealing with issues that come up when a military family member is called to serve. As Gonzalez illustrated, it is not always a viable option.

“When you see parents that want to be at a bedside, but tell you, ‘I can’t be there anymore because I don’t have the means and I have to go to work,’ it breaks your heart,” said Gonzalez.

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
Reverend Justo Gonzalez (center) stands with faith and labor leaders who are advocating for the passage of legislation in favor of paid family leave for New York.

The program, which would be employee funded, is good for employers as well, according to Gonzalez.

“This creates a win-win situation,” he said. “We allow families to be able to care for each other. We allow workers to be able to have the economic resources to be at bedsides during crisis, or during the first days of a child’s birth.”

Gonzalez said employers offering paid family leave are sure to gain better employee loyalty and workforce sustainability.

Gonzalez and his fellow advocates are urging Albany lawmakers to pass legislation in favor of paid family leave before the end of session on June 17th. He said to act otherwise would not fit who we are as a society and a people that recognize the dignity of workers and their families.

Avery began his broadcasting career as a disc jockey for WRUB, the University at Buffalo’s student-run radio station.
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