This past spring, my beloved mother-in-law had a medical emergency and was in the hospital for days.

More than 60% of workers in Maine aren’t covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, and even those who are often can’t afford to take unpaid FMLA leave. Vitalii Vodolazskyi/

During that time my spouse and I drove back and forth between our house, her house and the hospital. We cared for Mum’s cats, met with the hospital’s billing department and picked up prescriptions and groceries. My spouse worked on an iPad from the hospital waiting room. I graded papers sitting beside Mum’s hospital bed and met virtually with students from my car. When Mum finally came home, I finalized my grades within earshot in case she needed me. 

We all did our best during those rough couple weeks. But I was late responding to emails, neglected myself and couldn’t give Mum the attention and time she needed and deserved.

In the end, I was struck by two things: First, we were lucky to have flexible jobs; second, it shouldn’t be like this. Not for anyone. 

No matter who we are and what we do for a living, we should be able to take time to care for our loved ones when crisis strikes, without risking our jobs or housing, or making other terrible trade-offs. But most people don’t have that option. 

Here’s how that breaks down: If you have a job that’s covered under the Family Medical Leave Act, you might not know that most workers, including more than 60% in Maine, aren’t covered by FMLA. That includes agricultural and other seasonal workers in some of Maine’s most important industries; people who work for private companies with fewer than 50 employees (about 44% of Maine workers in 2019), and self-employed people. People who don’t have FMLA access are disproportionately people of color, women and low-income workers.


And then there’s this: FMLA leave is unpaid (unless your employer makes the not-very-common choice to pay you during your leave). I don’t have to tell you that for most of us, unpaid leave is not a realistic option. More than half of Americans don’t have the savings to get through three months – and because their employers don’t pay them enough to put anything away, about half of low-income workers have no savings at all. 

In order to be useful, family and medical leave must allow workers to pay their bills while they’re on leave. And it must cover all of Maine’s workers, not just those lucky enough to have the right kinds of jobs.  

Recognizing this, Maine’s Legislature last year created a state commission to develop a comprehensive paid leave program. That group will make recommendations to the current Legislature later this year, and the Legislature could pass a bill creating a statewide paid family and medical leave program in the coming session.  

But we don’t know what’s going to happen in November, and the need for comprehensive paid family and medical leave in Maine is too urgent to not prepare for all outcomes.  

It’s with this in mind that Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine Women’s Lobby have teamed up on a ballot initiative to create a Paid Family and Medical Leave Act for Maine. The initiative, which, if it’s needed, will come to ballot in 2023, would create a fund to pay workers for the time they need – without employers having to bear the cost. It would also provide paid leave for all workers, including self-employed people and people who work for very small businesses.  

I’ve been out collecting signatures for the ballot initiative because we need a backup plan. And I’ll be out on Election Day at the polls, along with hundreds of other Maine voters who care deeply about paid family leave. I hope that when we see you out there, you’ll sign to put paid leave on the ballot. It’s too important to wait.  

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.