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Opinion | Michigan moms need paid medical leave to support their families

Advocating for paid sick and medical leave is personal for me and for countless other moms in Michigan. I am hopeful that after years of struggling to balance care and work that we are finally at the precipice where we can help mamas and caregivers alike finally get the support they need to care for loved ones while also keeping a roof over their heads.

Aisha Wells, Alex
Aisha Wells is the paid family medical and sick leave organizer within Mothering Justice. She lives in Farmington Hills, where she is a full-time caregiver for her son with disabilities, Alex. (Courtesy photo)

As Alex grew up my concerns for his physical advancements and health began to overwhelm my thoughts. At age 5, he was still not walking, potty trained or doing what other 5-year old children do at their age. Seeing Alex struggle, I knew that I had to sacrifice continuing school because my son needed me. 

In 2012 I left school so I could be there for Alex. I would not return to school until 2017.

Oftentimes, when Alex is sick you don’t even know it because he’s still smiling and playing through his sickness. 

Daily, Alex looks up at me, saying. “Mommy keep going!?” as he cruises up the hallway, and I look at him smiling, saying “Yes, Alex keep going.” 

Although that statement is simple, it's profound because it reminds me that I have to keep going. I have to keep pushing so that Alex and I have a better life.

Taking time to take care of my son taught me just how important it is that mamas like me fight for policy change, especially paid leave. In 2019 I joined Mothering Justice as an intern and every year since then I have worked with mamas around Michigan to organize the Mothering Justice Mamas’ March to help uplift stories like mine, of single mothers with no paid sick or medical leave.

After taking a break to help my son, I was fortunate to work somewhere that granted me the flexibility to return to Oakland University. In 2020, I graduated with honors. 

I am fortunate to have flexibility in my job, but that’s not the case for every working person in Michigan. Many Michiganders have access to sick days, and those help significantly for addressing short-term illnesses. However, not everyone qualifies for sick leave and we need paid sick leave to help those struggling with chronic illnesses like seizure disorder, dialysis or lupus.

In 2018, 400,000 Michigander signatures were gathered by the MI Time to Care Coalition to push for a ballot measure to enact much-needed paid sick leave. Unfortunately, the measure was undercut when the legislature circumvented the will of the people by passing a law right before the election that removed the ballot measure from consideration and implemented a grossly flawed paid sick leave instead. 

After the election the law that was implemented was hindered even further to exclude nearly 2 million Michiganders who needed paid sick leave, almost half of the workforce in Michigan. 

People shouldn’t have to win the employment lottery to take off work to care for themselves or their loved ones.  

What Michigan went through in 2018 continues to perpetuate a lack of faith in government. It leaves the community feeling deflated, without trust. Now is the time for Michigan leaders, from the Legislature to the attorney general and the governor, to restore that trust by making paid sick leave the law of the state. It’s what those who signed the voter initiative in 2018 wanted, and it is sorely needed as we struggle through the pandemic. Millions of dollars of wages have been lost and countless people have been forced to choose between a roof over their head and the health of their families.

If you don't have sick days literally in the middle of a pandemic, then when do you need them?!

As a single mother of a disabled child, I feel empowered to tell my story and help others in my community. I am told that I am strong for what I do as a mother, but I don’t see it that way. I see it as my duty in life. Alex is the strong one!

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