My Turn: Paid family leave would be a workforce driver

For the Monitor
Friday, January 26, 2018

2018 marks the 40th anniversary for Graphicast, Inc., a small manufacturer located in Jaffrey. As president, I’ve seen how our economy has changed over those 40 years, and notice it seems more difficult for working families to make ends meet.

Today’s economy, with many two-income families, a deepening opioid crisis, increasing responsibility for care of aging parents and an aging workforce, calls for forward thinking policies that will help address these issues. One policy that can help is Family and Medical Leave Insurance.

Graphicast is a contract manufacturer, providing metal castings to a broad group of industrial customers throughout the country and internationally. Since 2009, we have twice achieved the honor of being one of the 10 best companies to work for in New Hampshire. Graphicast provides a comprehensive benefits package, including company-supported medical insurance and flexible spending accounts, company-provided short- and long-term disability insurance, a company-matched 401k retirement savings plan, paid vacation and paid sick leave. Even with just 22 employees, we have had employees utilize short- and long-term disability, and unpaid family leave. Life happens. In today’s world, it seems to be happening more often.

One of our employees, a single man, is caring for his father. Last summer, when his father’s condition worsened, he needed to be home to address his father’s unstable medical condition, eventually arranging for his father’s admission to the hospital, arrange for rehab, find him a nursing home and then plan to bring him home. He was traveling back and forth from home to the hospital. He exhausted his paid sick time and paid vacation in a few weeks. The remaining time off was without pay, although he did try to work a few hours when he had a break. While we worked with him around his schedule, think how much less stressful and financially draining this time would have been with family leave insurance.

Another of our single employees surprised us by getting married. His wife had a child with special needs, which was a stressful transition for him. He was a dedicated employee and a dedicated dad to his new daughter. He tried to juggle all of his responsibilities, but it was noticeably stressful for him. If we had family leave insurance at the time, would he have taken it to help himself with this transition? This, unfortunately, we will never know, as he took his life last July.

Family and Medical Leave Insurance would provide the opportunity for employers to offer this capability, which many want to do but for the cost. By having this as a public option, employers would be able to offer this as an employee choice, or, as we do with our short- and long-term disability, offer it as a company paid benefit.

Being on the advisory board of the Workforce Accelerator 2025, the board of the New Hampshire Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the statewide champion of the Manufacturing Sector Partnership Initiative, and former chair of New Hampshire’s Business and Industry Association, I am very much aware of the workforce development challenges facing the state. A paid leave program in New Hampshire would be a workforce driver for the state. It would help New Hampshire compete with our surrounding states for the skilled employees who will be such an important factor in our future workforce. It will attract younger workers with families and help retain aging workers in the workforce longer. Keeping more people in the workforce has economic value, not just to the individuals, but to the state as well, as these workers are also sources of tax revenue for the state.

I think this is a very important policy for our state to adopt, and I urge the Legislature to explore the options for the best way to structure it, toward a goal of setting up a program that will work well and meet the needs of New Hampshire families and businesses.

(Val Zanchuk is president of Graphicast Inc., in Jaffrey.)