Pelosi: Extend California’s paid family leave to the nation

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaking at a Washington Work and Family Coalition event in November 2013 on women’s economic security.

By House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi

By helping 1.6 million Californians balance family and work, our state has demonstrated the success of paid family leave – and now it is time for the rest of America to join us.

Paid leave made a tremendous difference to Mary Ignatius when her second son was born with clubfeet. The doctors had explained to her the condition could be corrected, but cautioned that treatment would have to start immediately.

Caring for a newborn and Ignatius’ 4-year-old would have been a handful all on its own, but now there were weeks and weeks of doctors, casts, procedures and leg braces ahead for her baby boy.

Thankfully, Ignatius had access to paid family leave, so she could see her son through his treatments without giving up the paychecks she needed.

Most Americans are not so fortunate. Whether looking after a newborn, or tending to a recuperating family member or nursing a declining parent, too many Americans face an impossible choice between a paycheck they can’t afford to miss and bonding with a new baby or being there in a loved one’s hour of need.

Across the country, only 12 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave through their employers to care for a new child or seriously ill family member. The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave for new mothers.

For us to grow as an economy and a society, this must change.

Here, as in so many things, California is leading the way for the nation. For 10 years, our paid family leave program has enabled Californians such as Ignatius to take up to six weeks of paid leave to bond with their newborns and newly adopted children, or care for a seriously ill spouse, parent, child or partner. Starting in July, our state will cover care for siblings, grandparents and parents-in-law, too.

The program works by building on the state disability insurance program Californians have paid into for decades, creating minimal added cost to employees. In fact, the silent success of this program has meant that many California workers have no idea they are eligible for paid family leave.

Those who do take paid leave, however, find it invaluable – affording them the breathing room to tend to the health and strength of their families, while maintaining their commitments in the workplace. Businesses and families both benefit.

Expanding paid family leave to all Americans is a central pillar of House Democrats‘ economic agenda for women and families, “When women succeed, America succeeds.”

For our economy to grow, we need to unleash the full potential of women – and strengthen the middle-class families that are the backbone of our democracy.

Paid leave is a keystone of an agenda built to empower all of America’s women, along with raising the minimum wage, insisting on equal pay for equal work and providing affordable, quality child care.

With these measures, we can enable women and men to secure the balance between work and family they need to thrive.

Congress must pass the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which would offer workers 12 weeks of leave at two-thirds of their salary to ensure that working men and women in every state of the union can have access to paid family leave. It proposes increasing the payroll tax contribution by 0.2 percent for employers with a match by employees.

California has once again taken the lead for our nation. Now Congress must act.

Originally published in the San Francisco Gate

Working Families Summit: For Many Small Businesses Offering Paid Maternity Leave Is Out Of Reach

mom and babyJulie Norris became a “proud single mother” in 2009, in a U.S. economic downturn that forced her to choose between having a home and keeping her 3-year-old business alive. The co-founder of Dandelion Communitea Café in Orlando, Florida, found a way to keep her company going by spending a few of those lean months sleeping on friends’ couches with her newborn daughter.

Today, Norris is back in her own home. Her health-conscious restaurant employs 29 people and generates about a million dollars a year in gross receipts, she says. When two of her workers recently gave birth, Norris made arrangements to enable them to care for their babies at work. What she couldn’t afford was to pay them off the clock.

“I wanted to offer paid leave,” she told International Business Times by phone, but said that would be a financially crippling proposition. The 35-year-old café owner says there need to be national policies to make it feasible for businesses like hers to be as family-friendly as they would like to be. “That would help change the cultural attitude toward workers,” she said.

A daylong Working Families Summit on Monday in Washington attempted to shift this cultural attitude. Joined by first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama used the day to propose a raft of measures aimed at easing the demands of work and family life.

“They’re basically using the summit as a bully pulpit to try to extend these rights to all employees,” Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, a nonprofit calling for more family-friendly work policies, told IBTimes.

The president used his executive power to instruct federal agencies on Monday to implement more flexible workplace schedules and called on Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require businesses to make reasonable accommodations for expecting moms and prohibit employers from forcing them to take unpaid leave.

“We’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t have it [paid maternity leave],” the president said Monday morning on CNN’s “New Day” “It doesn’t make any sense. There are a lot of countries that are a lot poorer than we are that also have it.”

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The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development ranks the United States last for workplace maternity benefits (pdf) compared to other developed nations like Germany, Canada, the UK or The Netherlands. U.S. labor law is more lenient on employers than labor laws in other countries.

The federal government doesn’t require private companies to offer either paid or unpaid maternity leave, and smaller businesses can legally fire anyone who needs extended leaves of absence to deal with childbirth or family health crises.

“FMLA [the Family and Medical Leave Act] is only available to workers when companies have 50 or more employees, so about 40 percent of employers don’t need to comply,” said Bravo. “This is a big problem. It’s great to have FMLA, but if you can’t afford to take time off, or you work for a small company, then it doesn’t help.”

A study released this month by the National Partnership for Women & Families (pdf) found that states have done little to implement paid and unpaid family or medical leave in the absence of strong federal protections.

Norris says she supports efforts announced Monday by Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to study the feasibility of a federal paid-leave policy that would cover the private sector – a measure that would face immense resistance from business groups and the congressional lawmakers that act in their interests. But the small-business owner says she’s hopeful that the cultural tide is changing.

“For women – and men, too – the maternity period is so critical to that future citizen,” Norris said. “And now there are more women entering the workforce than ever before. Employers are increasingly having to respond to their expectations, especially from younger women, and I hope that that encourages Congress to act.”

Obama, free of seeking re-election, is using his second term to take executive action to promote increasing the federal minimum wage, to extend same-sex marriage rights and, in this case, call for federal agencies to adopt more flexible schedules for family-related leave. But the president’s power goes only so far, and with Congress divided on the federal government’s role in social policies that affect private employers, passing any legislation that increases the costs of doing business, or adds another entitlement program, is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Via IBT

What family values mean to Americans

Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work

Ellen Bravo, executive director of Washington Work and Family Coalition’s national consortium Family Values @ Work

Family values. We hear that term a lot around election season, on the House and Senate floor and over the airwaves. But politicians should focus on what family members mean when they talk about family around the kitchen table.

What family members want is simple: to care for loved ones without jeopardizing their ability to provide for those loved ones. They want to be able to stay with a sick child without worrying about missing a day’s wages – or worse, losing a job. They want to be at the bedside of a seriously ill parent, help a partner recover from surgery, spend the crucial early months with a newborn without sending the family into bankruptcy.

That’s why so many people across the country are fighting for policies like earned sick days and family and medical leave insurance. In fact, these policies enjoy broad public support across party lines, geographies and all demographic groups. Nationally, three in four adults support an earned sick days law, including about 88 percent of women, 85 percent of those 65 and older, 59 percent of strong Republicans and 77 percent of Independents.

Unfortunately, too many Americans lack paid sick days and paid family and medical leave. Right now, the only federal statute designed to help people meet the dual demands of job and family is the Family and Medical Leave   Act, a law that was an important step but leaves out 40 percent of the workforce and guarantees only unpaid time, which millions cannot afford to take.

Today, only 12 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave. Meanwhile, 40 million American workers have no access to earned sick days, including eight in 10 of the lowest-wage workers, who can least afford to lose income.

Take Arlyssa Heard from Detroit, Michigan. After more than a decade helping people transition from welfare to employment, Alyssa lost her job when the contractor went out of business. The new firm hired most staff back but without any health insurance or paid sick days. Arlyssa had no time to go to the doctor for herself and wound up in the emergency room needing a blood transfusion – with a bill of $5,000.

“There were a lot of things doctors could have caught earlier,” she says. Arlyssa also has a son with sickle cell anemia, now age 19, who is frequently in the hospital. “Paid sick days would have allowed me to be with my son when he was hospitalized without the stress of worrying, are we going to be able to make the rent.”

Providing paid leave and sick days are central to family values in our country. And it’s also central to getting our economy on track. Our country’s economy will never be at its strongest when so many families are constantly on the brink of financial crisis.

Arlyssa will be one of a thousand workers, local elected officials, business owners and advocates going to Washington to take on these issues at the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families.

The Summit couldn’t come at a better time – the momentum behind these policies is growing across the country. Last year, three cities – New York City, Portland and Jersey City – passed paid sick days laws, joining San Francisco, Seattle, Washington D.C. and the state of Connecticut. Washington, DC added coverage for tipped workers. So far this year Newark, N.J. passed a similar ordinance and New York City expanded their law. Citywide laws or ballot initiatives are currently under consideration in Chicago, Eugene, OR , Tacoma, WA, San Diego, Oakland and several places in New Jersey; and statewide initiatives are gaining steam in California, Massachusetts, and elsewhere. Also in 2013, Rhode Island joined California and New Jersey in passing paid family leave, with New York, Colorado and other states considering similar legislation.

We often hear that states should act as incubators for policies before they are brought to scale nationally, and the good news is that these policies have now been tried and tested. The evidence is clear. Earned sick days and paid family and medical leave help reduce employee turnover, boost worker productivity and keep money in the pockets of families who will spend it at the local grocery store and clothing shop. Even one of the most outspoken opponents in San Francisco, Golden Gate Restaurant Association’s Executive Director Kevin Westyle, told a business reporter that paid sick days “is the best public policy for the least cost. Do you want your server coughing over your food?”

It’s past time to get real about the family values working families in this country really care about. We need national policies that let Americans be good employees, good parents to their kids and good children to their parents.