Amid reports that paid family and medical leave could be dropped from Democrats' sweeping social spending bill, 1,000 businesses on Wednesday signed a letter to President Joe Biden and top Democrats calling for its inclusion in their agenda, urging them “not to turn away from your commitment to working families and business.”
The letter — which includes signatures from more than 300 business leaders and companies like Pinterest, Salesforce and Spotify — was sent as POLITICO reported that the paid leave plan would be dropped from the Build Back Better package being finalized on Capitol Hill this week.
The proposal was seen as a core priority for Biden but was opposed by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. The president had proposed leave both for new parents and for medical absences, as well as for people taking care of a loved one with a serious illness.
Democrats had recently agreed to drastically reduce the federal paid leave plan from 12 weeks to 4 weeks, and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand had been meeting with Sen. Manchin in recent days in hopes of coming to a final agreement.
The letter sent Wednesday was put together by several advocacy groups who have been pushing for a paid leave program in recent weeks, as it came under threat of getting cut from the massive spending bill, partly because of the cost.
“Paid leave improves workers’ and workplace health. It boosts productivity and morale. It enables small businesses to have the security they need to manage employee absences when they are necessary, and it helps smaller businesses compete with larger ones,” the letter reads, noting that 70% of businesses support paid leave nationwide.
They emphasized the lessons learned during the pandemic, including the hundreds of thousands of women who left the workforce.
“It is unthinkable that we will have lived through a global health crisis and not take this opportunity to invest in paid leave,” the letter continues. “We urge you not to turn away from your commitment to working families and business.”
The U.S. is the only wealthy country in the world without a federal paid family leave program.
POLITICO reported late Wednesday that Democrats had finally decided to cut the proposal, a fact seemingly confirmed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who said he was "extremely disappointed" by its exclusion.
"I think it's clear from day one that the president has supported those provisions," Sanders said. "The problem is not with the President, the problem is with members here who, although they are very few in number, they are a significant minority, think that they have a right to determine what the rest of the Congress should be doing."
Sanders was not alone in his disappointment. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a major champion of family leave who was negotiating with Sen. Manchin on the issue, said in a statement to POLITICO that "until the bill is printed, I will continue working to include paid leave in the Build Back Better plan."
"I am not done pushing," Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., told POLITICO on Wednesday. "I am going to keep fighting for the inclusion of paid family and medical leave until I see the final bill text. This is not over."
"We are not going to let one man tell millions of women in this country that they can’t have paid leave," Washington Sen. Patty Murray told reporters.
As recently as Wednesday afternoon, the White House spokeswoman said Democrats were fighting to keep the plan in his agenda.
"It's still under discussion," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. "The president wants paid leave to be in this package."