This Father’s Day, on the heels of Juneteenth, in the middle of a pandemic, and during an inflection point in the movement for Black lives, I think of all that Black families face in this moment. All that our children are watching. All that they too are rising up and doing. I’m a father of two children. My wife Aonika and I are blessed to be working actors who could be home with our children when their schools closed.
But across the country, there are people facing much different choices. Black families and workers who are forced to choose between their life and their livelihood. Nurses, emergency responders who don’t have the option to work from home or to take paid leave when their daycare closes or a family member falls ill. Meat packers. Restaurant workers. Pharmacists. People who have been risking their lives every day to keep this country going through a pandemic—workers deemed essential, but then excluded from emergency protections. Do you go into work and risk exposure? Or do you risk your job? What do you do without child care?
Meanwhile, we know that Black people in this country are dying from coronavirus at a higher rate than white people. We know that Black people in this country are dying from many things at a higher rate than white people. Police brutality. Childbirth. Chronic conditions. Structural racism that marks every part of our lives. Black workers are less likely to have access to protections and benefits, including paid sick days and paid family and medical leave. And now the government has made it even harder to access those protections.
This means while frontline workers—disproportionately Black, Indigenous, people of color—are at highest risk of exposure, they may not be able to take even a single paid sick day to get tested for COVID-19, to safely quarantine or recover. And four in five African-American voters are concerned COVID-19 will affect their or their families’ health and half reported the pandemic has impacted their employment or wages already.
Providing paid leave for all workers—paid sick leave, and extended paid family and medical leave—would be a step to protect Black families and Black lives.
Early this spring, Congress made progress, passing the first-in-the-nation temporary paid leave laws. As part of Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, some covered workers now have up to two weeks of paid sick leave and up to 10 weeks of additional paid child care leave related to COVID-19 and caregiving.
But between exemptions in the law and loopholes widened by Trump’s Labor Department, up to 106 million workers, including millions of essential Black frontline workers, were cut out of these emergency paid leave protections. That lack of protection unfairly threatens Black lives and livelihoods, putting whole communities at risk.
It is rare that our elected officials have an opportunity to champion a policy that addresses so many needs. Paid leave improves public health, supports families, makes our economy more resilient, and reduces economic inequality. It would make workplaces and public spaces safer as we start to re-open. Paid leave is a gender justice issue. Paid leave is a racial justice issue.
Eighty percent of African-American voters are more likely to vote for their member of Congress or their U.S. Senator if they voted for paid leave from now on; I hope our elected leaders take note. I hope the Senate does the right thing and expands paid leave in the next relief package. We should have paid leave for all. Black lives are on the line.
This Father’s Day, I will have breakfast with my kids. My wife and I will swim and barbecue at home with them. And I will try to hold them close and not fear for the worst futures they could face, but hope for the world we still can build.
Sean Patrick Thomas is a husband, father, actor and activist.