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May 19, 2024 3:47 pm

Local News

Going to Work Sick and Losing Income While Caring for a Newborn – NC Workers Talk About Benefits and the Minimum Wage

Credit: iStock

by Lynn Bonner, NC Newsline

Blanca Borceguin became a mother of two daughters while working at jobs where she did not have paid maternity leave. 

While taking unpaid leave after her eldest daughter’s birth, she still had to pay $553 a month to keep her health insurance, she said. And after her daughter was born, Borceguin said her bosses didn’t want her to take time off from work for physical therapy appointments to treat problems related to the delivery. 

“For eight years, I had worked long hours for this firm and now, when I needed some time off, they refused.”

The Knightdale resident talked about losing income at the same time that her family was welcoming newborns at a news conference Wednesday promoting bills for paid family leave, paid sick leave, and an increased minimum wage. 

These bills are filed by Democrats and are unlikely to get hearings in the Republican-led legislature. Similar bills filed in past sessions have not received committee hearings. 

When Democrats ran the legislature before 2010, they did not act on paid leave bills. North Carolina last raised its minimum wage in 2008, and supporters had to fight hard to pass it. 

North Carolina’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Thirty states and Washington, DC have higher minimum wages, according to the US Department of Labor.

Thirteen states and Washington, DC have enacted paid family leave laws, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. 

Senate Bill 418 would set up a paid family leave insurance system administered by the state that would allow employees paid leave of up to 12 weeks for parental leave, up to 18 weeks to care for a family member with a serious health condition, and up to 26 weeks to care for a family member who is an injured military service member. The maximum payment would be 100% of the state average weekly wage, and the minimum would be $100 a week, unless the employee makes less than that. 

“Working people have been taken for granted for too long,” said Sen. Graig Meyer, a Democrat from Orange County. The paid family leave insurance would work just like unemployment insurance, he said. It would cost employers about $100 a year for each worker. 

Senate Bill 447 and its companion House Bill 620 would increase the state minimum wage in three stages until it reaches $15 an hour in 2025. After that, the minimum wage would be adjusted for inflation. The bill also phases out the sub-minimum wage for tipped employees. 

About 1.3 million people would benefit, including working parents and essential workers, said Sen. Sydney Batch, a Wake Democrat. “This is badly needed and long, long overdue,” she said. “Paid leave, paid sick days, and living wage represent the essential foundations of what working people need to provide for themselves and their families.” 

Jen Hampton, a food service worker from Asheville, said she has never been paid a living wage or had paid sick days in the 30 years she’s worked in the industry. The state minimum wage for employees who receive tips is $2.13 an hour as long as the tips they receive bring them up to $7.25 an hour. 

Tips aren’t a reliable source of income, Hampton said. “I’ve worked all day only to take home $10 or $20.”

When her children were young, Hampton said she had to rely on federal food benefits and food banks to feed her family even though she was working two or three jobs. 

Hampton said she has gone to work sick because she did not have paid sick days and couldn’t afford to miss any time. When she got COVID-19 the first time, Hampton said she was so sick she had to take 10 days off. Living paycheck to paycheck, she worried about paying her light bill and her rent. She was only able to stay afloat with rent assistance from a nonprofit. 

“All work should be dignified work,” she said. “Everyone should be able to take time to recover from illness. The minimum wage should be a living wage. And no one should have to choose between their paycheck and caring for their loved ones or themselves. These are basic dignities that every working person deserves, and they shouldn’t be up for debate.”

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.