On June 23, after a year-long advocacy campaign by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Fairfax County Chairman Jeff McKay, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors passed six weeks of paid family leave for county employees.
SEIU Virginia 512 is a union that represents Fairfax and Loudoun County employees. Members of the union are general county employees, and include social workers, mental health workers, librarians, child educators, and trash collectors, to name a few.
SEIU elected president David Broder explains that the six weeks of paid leave can be used by workers to stay home for the birth or adoption of a child, when they’re unable to work because of a chronic condition or ongoing medical treatment, or when a family member has an ongoing medical condition.
Some examples are recovery from a major surgery or cancer treatment.
Broder explains that nearly three years ago, his wife was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. Because he worked for the union, not the county, he was able to use extended paid family leave to take his wife to her medical appointments. Today, she is well and healthy.
“Healthcare was critical for her to get the treatment, but paid family leave meant that she could go to chemo without giving up her paycheck and I could take her there,” he explains.
“It’s critical in a pandemic, but it’s also critical here so that our communities – nurses, social workers, and librarians – can care for their families when they need to and then get back to work and help our community.”
He explains that last spring, candidates who were running for chair of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors were being interviewed, and a woman wanted to attend to ask about paid family leave, since she was expecting her first child.
On the morning of, she texted Broder that she couldn’t attend the meeting because she had gone into labor – but that didn’t stop her. “While she was in labor, she sent us a video telling the candidates that two weeks wasn’t enough time to be with her child,” says Broder.
They’ve interviewed hundreds of candidates, but he says this was one of the best moments.
“We have to give the new chair, Jeff McKay, a lot of credit,” says Broder. “He worked with our members to continue to make paid family leave a priority because he knew it was that important.”
Tammie Wondong, SEIU’s Fairfax chapter president and a human service assistant who has been working in Fairfax County for 31 years, says that all employees are grateful that the board approved of the six weeks.
“It’s a huge win. It’s better than a raise,” she says. From her years of experience, she’s known countless employees who have complained that two weeks was not enough time to bond with their newborn, and others who needed more time off work because they had children with chronic illnesses. She says that they are now working on giving non-merit employees the same leave.
“With this move, Fairfax County is now the best county for paid family leave,” says Broder. “It’s now a leader, and we think it’s time that not only other counties do the same, but we think the General Assembly needs to step up and make sure that every Virginian has paid family leave.”