Virginia, Your Local Chambers of Commerce Won’t Tell You If They Support Paid Leave

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By Elle Meyers
June 12, 2020

Local chambers of commerce throughout Virginia play an influential role lobbying on behalf of businesses big and small on legislation under consideration in the General Assembly. 

After Democrats won the House of Delegates and Senate in Virginia for the first time in a decade, some chambers finally dropped opposition to increasing the state’s minimum wage, which was at the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. 

For example, Richmond’s Chamber of Commerce in 2019 said maintaining the low federal minimum wage was a policy priority. But after Democrats won the legislature, that position was dropped from the 2020 policy agenda. Gov. Ralph Northam earlier this year signed legislation finally increasing the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 per hour up to $15 per hour by 2024. 

But other Democratic priorities, like paid leave for new parents or sick workers, didn’t even get through committee. Virginia requires no paid leave for new parents beyond federal law, which only applies to larger employers and is unpaid.

Parental leave gives employees paid days off so that they can take care of children or other family members when they are sick. Employees that do not have access to paid parental leave are often placed in a tough position, for example, if a child is too sick to go to school for the day. Then a parent must decide whether to take off work without pay, or to send their child to school or daycare even when they’re under the weather. 

In Virginia, 55% of workers don’t even have access to unpaid leave, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. This means that if an employee needs to take off work to care for a family member, they don’t get paid for that day of work and risk losing their job. 

The COVID-19 pandemic put a harsh spotlight on how important paid leave can be for employees, as workers struggled with the decision between taking care of children and family or bringing home a paycheck. 

We reached out to see if the pandemic had convinced any local chambers of commerce across the state to change their positions on paid leave, as some had on raising the minimum wage. Most simply didn’t respond. The only one that did said they hadn’t yet taken a position on the issue:

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