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St. Louis city and county employees fight for – and win – paid family and medical leave

Photo Credit: Getty Images
By Anna Dang ·

St. Louis, Missouri, city and county employees now have 240 and 480 hours of paid family and medical leave, respectively, thanks to the members of AFSCME Local 410 (Council 61).

To fund this leave, Mayor Tishaura O. Jones committed $150 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in St. Louis’s budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year so that employees can take paid leave in the event of a birth, illness or other family and medical circumstances.

Members of Local 410 worked hard for months to persuade the city to take this step. They submitted statements to the St. Louis City Council that cited the experiences of employees who did not have this paid leave, and garnered the support of Missouri Jobs with Justice and the AFL-CIO. Local 410 represents 1,000 workers in essential jobs in the city and county of St. Louis, ranging from the refuse department’s truck drivers to those who provide building custodial services.

Prior to this new policy, St. Louis employees had to use up their vacation, sick and compensatory time for family and medical circumstances. Under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers must restore workers returning from leave to the same or equivalent job, but this law does not mandate that leave to be paid.

That meant St. Louis employees who did not have any accrued time when these events occurred were forced to go on unpaid leave.

The burden of unpaid family and medical leave fell heavily on members like Tecona Donald-Sullivan, who has spent the last seven years operating heavy equipment for the city’s refuse services agency.

“I don’t think that anybody should have to go through that,” said Donald-Sullivan, who had to take unpaid leave when she lost her son and grandson to gun violence in 2017.

“Back then, they made me exhaust all of my time because they didn’t have paid FMLA. There were weeks that I didn’t even have a check. I was standing outside at churches trying to get my bills paid, (contacting) all types of agencies trying to get rent,” she said. “I lost my car. All those things should have been secured, but they were not.”

For so many city and county workers like Donald-Sullivan, the new paid family and medical leave can keep income predictable during unpredictable events like a death in the family.

While this round of paid family and medical leave is a huge victory, there are still more measures that the city can take to ensure that all employees are fully covered when they need it. One next step that became apparent to Donald-Sullivan was the expansion of eligibility for paid leave.

She recently discovered she wouldn’t qualify for paid leave to care for her daughter, who was hospitalized.

“There’s a lot that we can do to get (rid of) the glitches,” she said.

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