Colorado Springs is home to my small business where I currently employ six people. I have owned this retail shop in the Chapel Hills Mall for about 10 years. A small business owner faces many struggles, but I would say maintaining a talented and vibrant staff has been my biggest challenge.
The Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act (Senate Bill 19-188) will be a game changer for me and for my employees. As a small business, it will help to level the playing field and free up workers to take a more interesting job that suits them, rather than chasing a corporate job with benefits small businesses like mine can’t offer. I am competing for employees with larger organizations, and I often lose out on top talent because I can’t offer these crucial benefits. I recently lost two new hires who both took jobs that they did not prefer, but had benefits such as paid leave. I can’t blame them for wanting those protections.
One of my current employees has been out for about a month to have surgery on her knee. She knows that she will have her place on our team when she recovers, but she waited over a year to schedule her surgery because she could not afford to go weeks without pay. Having a healthy workforce is good for the economy. Pushing people to the point of health crisis because they have no financial options is not a good economic model for Colorado. Getting by without her briefly while she gets healthy is far better than losing her to a disability, and then having to hire and train her replacement.
Folks who oppose FAMLI have told me that if I want protections for my staff, I ought to do it on my own and not try to “foist it” on others. These people do not seem to understand how insurance works. A pool of six individuals is not the same as a pool of millions. I would love to be able to give paid leave to all of my employees, but cannot begin to afford to do that.
The U.S. is one of only a few countries in the world to not offer any kind of paid leave for workers. The viability of FAMLI has been studied for years. In the absence of a national policy, it has been implemented in other states. It is not a handout, but a fund that employees and employers contribute to with small, affordable payroll deductions. A minimum wage earner working full time would pay about $83 into the fund over the course of a year. Their employer would pay about $55 per year per employee. With this small investment, employees would have the protection of up to 12 weeks of paid leave for a medical emergency in their family, or to welcome a new baby.
Scientific polling shows that Colorado’s small businesses overwhelmingly support the establishment of a publicly administered family and medical leave insurance program. Support among retail businesses like mine is 75 percent. This polling cuts across party lines with a healthy majority of Republicans and Democrats supporting the proposal.
Currently 58 percent of businesses with between two and 10 employees don’t offer any type of paid leave for their employees, and these businesses comprise the majority of businesses in Colorado. FAMLI is a common-sense solution to this problem that will give small businesses like mine the ability to change that sad statistic. This bill is a real win-win — employers and employees alike know it’s time to address the very real need for paid family and medical leave in Colorado.
—Tracy duCharme owns Color Me Mine, a small business in the Pikes Peak region.