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Working Families

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By Nancy Marr

The United States is an outlier in family care policies. It is one of the few wealthy democracies without national provision of paid parental and sick leave. New York has established a better record at protecting working families, from the women’s Equality Agenda to the landmark paid family leave law, to this year’s statewide paid sick time law. During the pandemic, workers who need to care for themselves or a sick loved one have been protected by the family leave and sick time laws. But there is more to be done.

Child care providers across the state have closed, leaving the child care workers without jobs and asking parents to stay home to care for their children. With schools largely virtual, parents have had to use family leave time or leave their jobs to stay home with the children. Women were twice as likely as men to report leaving work due to caregiving duties; a large percentage were low-wage workers, many of whom faced discrimination or might not be eligible for family leave payments. (To be eligible they had to have worked 40 hours a week for at least 26 weeks, or 175 days for the same employer if they were part-time workers.)  

Ending this care crisis is a crucial step toward gender equality and racial justice. Workers who are themselves experiencing COVID-19 deserve the same rights. Under the Disability Benefits Law, employees are eligible for benefits of 50 percent of their average week wage but no more than the maximum benefit of $170 per week for a period of 26 weeks. The benefits cap, raised last in 1989, must be raised. 

The paid family leave act, which will reach full phase-in in 2021, must be updated to remove exceptions and ensure coverage for all private and public sector employees, including part-time domestic workers. Workers who move between jobs or face unemployment should be covered, and we should expand the definition of family to include all those whom workers consider family.  

The New York Human Rights Law should be updated to expand the prohibition on familial status discrimination to encompass all forms of caregiver discrimination. It must ensure that domestic workers, who are predominantly women of color and immigrants, can benefit from all of the law’s protections, and we should fully fund the Division of Human Rights to ensure robust enforcement.

In 2021, the New York State Department of Labor must enact strong regulations for the paid sick time rights. There needs to be outreach and education to ensure all workers know and can use their rights.

New York must also lead the way to insure that workers have meaningful access to alternative work arrangements, including telecommuting and part-time work. Workers, especially in low-wage industries, should know in advance what their schedules will be, and have a say in planning them. Worker-protective legislation on misclassification and fair pay for all New Yorkers is also needed.  

The financing of long-term services and supports for older Americans and people with disabilities has come chiefly from Medicaid and private long-term care insurance, neither of which are available to the average middle class person. 

Direct care services for the elderly or disabled, either in nursing homes or at home, are among the fastest growing jobs in the economy, but, like child care, have low pay and few protections. Women of color are the most likely to be in this cohort, and are the most likely to leave their jobs to perform uncompensated care at home. Home care, whether by an outsider or a family member, should be paid for and protected.

Funding for family leave and disability pay comes from payroll deductions from employees and employer contributions through insurances held by employers. We need to find ways to assist employers of domestic and part-time workers to comply with regulations or seek help from the Department of Labor in order to guarantee the eligibility of their workers for benefits. More information can be found at https://www.abetterbalance.org/.

Contact New York State Governor Cuomo (www.governor.ny.gov), NYS Senate Majority Leader and Temporary President Andrea Stewart-Cousins ([email protected]) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie ([email protected]) to let them know you care about worker and family rights.  

Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

File photo by Rohma Abbas

Working Families Party voters of Huntington Town will get the chance to choose between five town board candidates in a primary election on Sept. 10.

Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and candidate Keith Barrett are the two candidates backed by the Working Families party. Charles Marino, Richard Hall and Valerie Stringfellow are also running in the primary.

“The Working Families Party endorsed Keith Barrett and Councilwoman Susan Berland because they’ve demonstrated they share our values and support our key legislative issues like raising the minimum wage and passing paid family leave,” Emily Abbott, the WFP Long Island political director, said in an email. “We have no doubt they will be the best voice for Huntington’s working families.”

Since submitting their names to the Suffolk County Board of Elections, Hall and Stringfellow have both decided not to actively campaign. While their names will still technically be on the ballot, they said they have put their support behind Marino and Barrett, who they believe best support minorities in Huntington Town.

Marino said he is running to bring an end to the corrupt political system in Huntington. “As a registered Working Families Party member who believes in putting workers first, not in lining one’s pockets, I am challenging Ms. Berland in the primary,” Marino said in a statement. Attempts to reach Marino were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, Barrett and Berland said they’re the best picks for the WFP line.

“I come from a working family,” Barrett said. “I’m a union guy, a blue-collar worker. I’ve always been in the working guys shoes.”

Barrett is a Huntington native. He went to Walt Whitman High School,and started his own business, Barrett Automotives, in 1997 in Huntington Station. He is currently the town’s deputy director of general services.

Berland, an incumbent who is seeking a fifth term, said she is the only town board member who has been a member of a union during high school and college.

“I’ve passed legislation that helps our town workers,” she said. “I’m very pro-workers and I’m very pro-military. I am a staunch labor and working families supporter.”

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President announces candidacy against Valerie Cartright

Above, far right, Ed Garboski testifies before the town board. He has announced he is running for the seat held by Councilwoman Valerie Cartright. File photo

Ed Garboski will be taking a leave from his role as civic president as he works to unseat Councilwoman Valerie Cartright in the fall.

Garboski, of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, announced his run against one-term incumbent Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) for Brookhaven Town Board’s 1st District at the civic’s meeting on Wednesday night — opening up much debate.

The association’s bylaws do not contain a provision for taking a leave of absence, which originally created a tricky situation for the membership during the discussion. The room was divided — and at times argumentative — over whether Garboski should resign his position as he runs for political office on the Republican and Conservative tickets.

Faith Cardone said she felt it would be a conflict of interest for him to remain the president while running a political campaign for the Town Board.

Garboski said he had wanted to take a leave of absence, largely because he foresees having less time to fulfill his presidential duties, but was limited because of the bylaws’ shortcoming. He pushed back, however, when some called for his resignation, including fellow civic executive board member Joan Nickeson.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright. File photo
Councilwoman Valerie Cartright. File photo

“I don’t think that I need to resign as of right now,” he said. “Where’s the conflict [of interest]?”

Other members also spoke up against Garboski remaining in his civic position.

“I don’t want to insult your integrity, Ed,” Gerard Maxim said, but having Garboski serve as president while also running for Town Board “makes it awkward for us.”

There were, however, voices of support in the audience.

Kevin Spence, a Comsewogue library board member, said there is no ethical problem before Election Day.

“I don’t see where this is a conflict until he gets elected.”

After some back and forth, Garboski relented somewhat, saying, “if this is such a big problem … if it’s that important to this membership here that I step down, I’ll step down.”

But instead, another library board member, Rich Meyer, made a motion for civic members to vote on granting Garboski a leave of absence starting in August and ending after the election, overriding the bylaws.

The members unanimously approved the motion for his leave.

Once Garboski departs in August, Vice President Diane Lenihan-Guidice will step into his shoes, including running the civic meetings for the months he is away.

Cartright, who is running for a second term on the Democratic, Working Families and Independence lines, said in a statement she and Garboski “will continue to work together to address community concerns. As a sitting elected representative, I firmly believe government always comes before politics.”

She said if re-elected she would “address the needs and ideas of the community and advocate for an informative and transparent local government.”