A bold new organization, PL+US: Paid Leave for the United States, has a single mission: win paid family leave for everyone in the United States. It wants to guarantee that the 114 million Americans currently lacking paid leave to care for a child or sick family member win the right to that leave. PL+US’s strategy is to combine public advocacy and accountability campaigns with state-of-the-art communications and digital grassroots engagement to win ambitious solutions for working people in the United States.
ESME is thrilled to have PL+US as a featured nonprofit. Solo Moms, in particular, have much to gain if paid leave is made a universal right rather than a privilege, in terms of caring for their families. We had the opportunity to speak with PL+US founder and executive director Katie Bethell, who shares her passion and insight on the issue of paid leave.
Q: When and why did you decide to start PL+US?
A: I started PL+US about a year and a half ago because I believe we have a caregiving crisis in the United States and that paid family leave is the solution.
Q: When and why did you get involved with this mission?
A: I’ve been an advocate for women and families for more than 15 years. I was the campaign director at MomsRising.org for four years, where, as a member of the founding team, I developed and won local, state, and national campaigns for family-friendly public policy. I worked to win passage of statewide paid family leave in New Jersey and Washington State, paid sick days legislation in Connecticut, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
Q: What are the key services your organization provides? What kinds of difficulties do your clients face?
A: We advocate for great paid family-leave policies at companies and for state and national policy. We support people such as Kristen Picciolo, a new mom and Starbucks barista, who wants the coffee giant to offer paid family leave equally to everyone; Derek Rotondo, a new dad in Ohio whose company, JPMorgan Chase, gives significantly less leave to dads and secondary caregivers; and disabled veterans such as Dave Riley, who is not eligible for caregiving benefits because he was injured before 9/11, and only veterans who were injured on or after 9/11 are eligible for caregiving benefits.
Q: How many Solo Moms or Solo Mom families are you able to help? Is there any family or mom, in particular, who stands out for you? Can you share her story?
A: We are one of the only industrialized countries in the world without national paid family leave, and the people who most need paid family leave in this country, like Solo Moms, are the least likely to have it. Paid family leave makes it possible for Solo Moms to be there for their families when [their families] need them most. In fact, our current Family and Medical Leave Act discriminates against children of Solo Moms; babies born to a two-parent household qualify for a total of six months of job-protected leave (three months for each parent), while new children born to solo parents would not have the same opportunity. One mom we have been working with is Jasmine Dixon. She was an employee at Walmart when her second son was born and received zero paid leave, so she had to go back to work just a few days after his birth, and, at the time, he was in the [neonatal intensive care unit]. A video of her story has had almost 1 million views now, and she is advocating for Walmart to change its policy and offer fully paid family leave to all employees.
Q: Is there a memorable event or situation that demonstrates the goals of your organization?
A: We’ve been supporting people who work at Starbucks and are trying to get the company to offer equal paid leave to all its employees. Right now, corporate moms get three times more leave than baristas, and dads and adoptive parents who work in the stores get no paid leave at all. In March, we supported two amazing barista moms who met with top executives at the Starbucks headquarters to discuss the unfair policy and then challenged the new CEO in front of the entire shareholder meeting. It was really powerful to see their courage and their strength.
Q: What are some of the challenges your organization faces in terms of funding and support?
A: Like most small nonprofit organizations, we are always trying to find new people and foundations to support our work financially. Even a small donation goes a long way. If you can donate, please do!
Q: How have you been affected by this work? Has it changed you in any way?
A: I have taken paid family leave three times in my life: when my daughter was born, when my husband’s father was dying, and when my mom had surgery. These are the most important moments in our lives, and it is so wrong that it is hard for most people to be able to be there. Since starting PL+US, I have been overwhelmed by stories from people who didn’t have the leave they needed and so inspired that they are now taking action to change it at their companies or in their states.
Q: What are you most proud of in terms of your work and participation with PL+US?
A: I am proud to be building a movement of amazing people who will make paid family leave a reality in this country. Join us!
Thank you, Katie, for your passion and commitment to ensuring that all American families can do their best by their families. We are too wealthy a nation and caring a society to force so many families to make heartbreaking and financially precarious choices when it comes to the people they love. Bravo!
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.