Senator Kirsten Gillibrand Calls for Paid Leave and Income Equality in MLK Speech

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Senator Kirsten Gillibrand speaks at Syracuse University, November 2015.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand speaks at Syracuse University, November 2015.Photo: Mike Groll

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has long been an outspoken advocate for paid leave and income equality: “There’s a reason only 3 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women,” she told the Cut back in June. And at Monday’s 30th annual Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she used her speech to call for policies that “reflect what American workers’ lives are actually like.” 

Gillibrand used herself as an example, detailing a time when she canceled a meeting because her son had an asthma attack, and another time she stayed home when her son had the flu. But, she stresses, her experience is the exception. “There are too many parents in our city, in our state, in our country, who have zero flexibility — no sick days, no vacation days, no paid leave,” she said. “So if we want to make our families strong, if we want to lift more Americans out of poverty, if we want to make sure a mother can keep her job even when she has a new baby, we have to change the policies.”

We can start, she said, by giving working parents paid leave: “We are literally the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t have it.” She also emphasized the urgency of lawmakers raising the minimum wage so single parents can afford to take care of their children without working more than one job.

“These burdens are even higher in African-American communities,” she said. “There, two out of every three moms are the primary breadwinners. Without equal pay and without paid leave they don’t have a chance.”