The star of an attack ad from Democratic candidate for governor Molly Kelly about paid and family leave received roughly seven weeks of paid time off to care for his terminally ill wife, the Union Leader has confirmed.
In the ad, Kurt Sundstrom of Concord, a member of the curator staff at the Currier Museum of Art, tearfully lashed out at Gov. Chris Sununu for referring to paid leave as a “vacation.”
“Paid family leave would have meant the world to me and our son because having to worry about money is the most horrible thing when you’re trying to care for someone,” Sundstrom said in the ad Kelly aired for a few weeks and followed up with a mailing.
“Gov. Sununu blocked paid family medical leave. He called it a ‘vacation.’ I want Gov. Sununu to know it’s not a vacation.”
He was describing caring for his wife, psychologist Dr. Jody Lynn Fine, before her death in 2015.
Fine died after being diagnosed a year earlier with an incurable brain cancer.
But Currier Director and CEO Alan Chong in a statement said given Sundstrom’s family crisis his agency went beyond what it typically offers for leave.
“The Currier Museum of Art adheres to state and federal law involving family leave, including the Family Medical Leave Act, which provides for time off but does not address pay. The Currier Museum provides all full-time employees with paid time off for family matters,” Chong said in a statement.
“Some time ago we had a long-time, valued employee who was going through a terribly difficult period when his wife was diagnosed with a terminal medical condition. Because of the Currier’s dedication to our employees, we went beyond our standard leave policy or what was mandated by law to allow that employee as much paid time off as needed.”
Tiffany Eddy, a spokesman for Currier Museum management, also confirmed Sundstrom received paid leave.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. It also requires that their group health benefits be maintained during the leave.
The federal law applies to all public employees and to those working at private companies with at least 50 employees.
In a statement the Kelly campaign admitted for the first time Sundstrom was allowed to take unused vacation and sick time off from work but insisted there was no paid family leave at his business.
“Mr. Sundstrom used all of his accumulated vacation and sick days caring for his wife with brain cancer. Unfortunately, he did not have access to paid family leave, which would have allowed him to be with her in the time leading up to her death,” said Kelly campaign spokesman Chris Moyer.
“This attack on Mr. Sundstrom is confirmation that Chris Sununu doesn’t know the difference between paid family leave and vacation. And Chris Sununu shouldn’t attack someone whose wife was dying from brain cancer.”
Calls to Sundstrom at his work Thursday for comment on this story were not returned. Sununu’s campaign declined to comment on this report.
Until this report, Kelly had denied Sundstrom had gotten any paid leave from his employer.
Radio talk show host Jack Heath pressed her on this point during a broadcast interview last week.
Heath asked, “So he didn’t get a family leave?”
Kelly answered, “He did not. No, so he is looking, his message is and many many others is that they would like to be able to participate in a program where that would be available to them and they would want to be a part of that program, and to financially be a part of that program.”
After the ad ran the Kelly campaign put out its own statement that Sundstrom was not given paid time off.
“Sundstrom’s employer did not offer paid family and medical leave, and the family, having once relied on two incomes, could not afford to have Sundstrom take any unpaid leave,” the Kelly campaign said in an Oct. 17 statement.
Sundstrom “had to rely on out-of-town family members to fly in to comfort her as brain cancer took her life,” the campaign added.
Sununu referred to paid leave as a “vacation” during a gubernatorial forum in August and again recently during a broadcast on New Hampshire Public Radio.
The governor has said he misspoke but he took ownership for helping kill a House-passed paid and family leave bill in the state Senate that had Kelly’s support, which he warned could have led to an income tax.
This bill allowed for six weeks of paid leave for private sector workers financed by a .67 percent wage contribution from employees.
Earlier last spring, Sununu said he supported a “truly voluntary” paid leave program that would not cost millions of dollars to administer as he said the House-passed bill would have.
He wanted a program that allows all workers including public employees to opt in to a voluntary payment to support paid family leave.