Mother’s Day. The day many Americans honored the most important woman in their life via celebratory meals, pictures on social media, and a copious amount of well-deserved kudos. Baseball stadiums held giveaways ranging from clutches to flower pots. Hell, even Hooters had a Mother’s Day special where moms ate free.
On Sunday night’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the British satirist (and sometime journalist) included a scathing segment on how “In America, there is nothing we wouldn’t do for moms—apart from one major thing.”
That “one major thing”? Well, according to the United Nations, the United States and Papua New Guinea are the only countries in the world that do not provide paid time off for new mothers.“Just us and Papua New Guinea. That is as unlikely a pairing as Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon,” Oliver said, referencing the cinematic dud Hot Pursuit. “Separately great, but if it’s just the two of them with no one else, it makes you feel as if one of them has taken their eye off the ball: Reese.”“Here in the U.S., federal law grants workers just 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and there are some stark limits on that.”
In order to apply for the 12 weeks of unpaid leave U.S. federal law gives workers, you must work for a company with at least 50 employees, have been employed at the company for over a year, and be a full-time employee.
“What that means is that 40 percent of workers are not covered under the federal law,” Oliver said. “So if a worker with no paid leave goes into labor at work, she better hope it’s on her lunch hour and that her co-workers don’t mind if the break room gets a bit messy.”
Oliver then launched into just how “creative” some women must get in order to take maternity leave, from using sick days and vacation time to basically putting it on their credit cards. There was even the case of a woman whose baby was born six weeks premature, but since she could only afford to take four weeks off work in total, she gave birth on a Wednesday and returned to work the following Monday.“This is not how it’s supposed to work,” said Oliver. “Mothers shouldn’t have to stitch together time to recover from childbirth the same way that we plan four-day weekends in Atlantic City.”
“Why do we have this system in the United States?” he continued. “Well, for a start, employers seem to fear any sort of mandate. But when it comes to family leave, any fears do tend to be overblown.”The HBO host then pointed to a plan passed in California back in 2002 that called for six weeks of partially paid maternity leave funded through a tiny payroll tax. And guess what happened?
“In California, it worked! And yet, only two other states have followed their lead,” Oliver said. “And that may be because any legislation that specifically seeks to support women often faces vocal opposition.”
Last Week then threw to a video of a group of Minnesota politicians extolling their mothers in a Mother’s Day video. The only problem? All of these politicians opposed a recent bill that would have expanded maternity leave and provided various other workplace protections for women.Oliver’s conclusion: “You can’t go on and on about how much you support mothers and then fail to support legislation that makes life easier for them.”