This year's legislative agenda will be about "a fight for fairness for New York's working families." So said Governor Andrew Cuomo while pitching for paid family leave during a visit to Buffalo on Wednesday.
Cuomo appeared at the Delevan-Grider Community Center, where he was greeted by a gymnasium filled with supporters including other elected officials, union representatives, community activists and others who agree with his call to allow up to 12 weeks of paid time off to working individuals who are caring for a family member, including a newborn child, ailing parent or other loved one in need of more focused attention.
The paid leave would be a fraction of the individual's wage, funded by payroll deductions. As Cuomo told reporters after his speech, individuals who do not wish to have the payroll deduction would have the right to opt out.
He told the audience that while employers used to be more willing to accommodate, today's workplace culture is one in which workers are made to be expendable if they seek such time off.
"We're saying we should restore balance to that relationship," Cuomo said. "Yes we want to work and yes we want to be productive. But we also want to live our lives. We also want to honor our family and respect our family. Life is not just about work."
Cuomo expressed regret that he didn't spend more time with his own father in his final weeks of life. Mario Cuomo, who also served previously as Governor of New York, died on New Year's Day 2015. The current governor says families need to have time together in such situations.
Prior to the governor's remarks, local elected officials took turns offering their support for paid family leave. Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who opened the program, suggested working women are especially hurt by the dilemma of caring for family while satisfying job obligations.
"Why is that? It's because, fortunately, our parents are living longer, and some of us start our careers before we begin to have children," she said. "These are important pieces of our family that we're not just going to leave and walk away from for a job.
"We're going to make sure we have ways of taking care of them. There's no other benefit that's more important to working families, and particularly to working women, than paid family leave."
State Senator Tim Kennedy followed, suggesting that employers would ultimately save money by enabling paid family leave instead of going through constant turnover created by people quitting to address family needs.
"Offering paid family leave can help businesses retain workers, which in turn reduces training costs, while boosting productivity," Kennedy said. "It boosts employee morale and ensures that workers are able to take the time they need to support their families at home, allowing them to focus and do better work."
Cuomo also renewed his pitch for a $15/hour minimum wage in New York State, another element in his campaign for working families.
Following his speech, Cuomo met with reporters and was asked if passage of paid family leave might be difficult within the Legislature.
"It should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, politics is such nowadays that even the no-brainers are difficult," Cuomo responded.
He told reporters that given the polarizing nature of today's politics, he's going to the public because he wants the public to weigh in.
"Politicians listen to people. They really do, or they're former politicians," he said.