Arrival of paid maternity leave is long overdue in Washington state

Photo: robleto/Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: robleto/Flickr Creative Commons

It seems someone’s walking by pushing a baby carriage pretty much every time I look out the window of my Beacon Hill home. From my front porch, I can see three houses with infants. The neighborhood parents have bonded, not just over sleep schedules and teething, but also commiserating over how both moms and dads had to return to work too soon.

And these are middle class parents who could afford to buy a house in Seattle in the past few years.

This week is the twenty-third anniversary of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It provides job-protected leave – without pay – for up to twelve weeks for the birth or adoption of a new child, care of a seriously ill family member, or the worker’s own serious health condition.

FMLA was a significant step forward that has helped millions of working families – but only a step. That unpaid provision is an obvious impediment for most people. In addition, the law only applies to a little over half the workforce: those in companies with more than 50 employees, who have been with that company at least a full year and worked 1,250 hours or more the previous year.

The U.S. is the only country in the world, aside from Papua New Guinea, that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave. Several stateshave acted on their own to ensure that working families have paid leave for both parents, as well as when a family member or the worker has a serious health condition.

And guess what? In those states (California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island), parents take longer leaves, especially mothers of color. Women in those states are more likely to be employed a year following childbirth, and for higher wages, and less likely to have been forced onto public assistance. Mothers are able to breastfeed for longer, moms and babies both have better health outcomes, and dads are more involved with their child. All of those outcomes benefit children, families, employers, and the state for the long term.

Those paid leave programs also cover other family and health crises: caring for a parent who has had a stroke or a spouse recovering from surgery, or dealing with a worker’s own cancer diagnosis.

Washington’s legislators have a bill before them right now to set up a similar program here. The proposal uses the same definitions of qualifying family and health conditions already well-established in the FMLA, but provides workers with two-thirds their usual pay for up to twelve weeks and covers all workers – even independent contractors. The system would be funded jointly by workers and employers through a small payroll premium of 0.2% (that’s $1.35 a week for someone making $35,000 annually).

Because it’s family and medical leave insurance, employers wouldn’t have to pay the employee when out on those extended leaves. Companies could use the wages they save to hire a temporary replacement if necessary, making leave equally available to workers in firms large and small. Businesses would also benefit from fewer people being forced to quit their jobs, as well as higher morale and productivity.

Adopting this program would be a big step toward decreasing the glaring inequalities of race, gender, and class that plague our society. Today, the wealthiest and most privileged parents also get the most generous employer-provided paid leave benefits. They are able to spend ample time nurturing their newborns, boosting their child’s brain and social development and establishing the foundation for long-term health and success. Lower income parents are forced back to work too soon, often before the mother has even physically recovered from childbirth. Medical bills and other expenses can push families into a financial hole, making them more vulnerable and stressed.

All these factors compound to improve the lifetime prospects of high income kids and undermine those of lower income children.

Legislative deadlines are looming, and it looks like our legislators are going to postpone moving forward with family and medical leave insurance yet again. Can we really afford to wait? How many more children will be born, how many more elders will spend their last weeks without family by their side before we act? It’s not too late tosend your legislators a message: our children and families are too important to wait any longer.

Marilyn Watkins is policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, a nonpartisan policy center  focused on building and economy that works for everyone.

Original: South Seattle Emerald »

Ted Cruz to working mother: Don’t push it on paid family leave

hanauer quote[Via Civic Skunk Works] Here at Civic Skunk Works, we’ve spent a quite a bit of time pointing out that trickle-down economics has never been anything more than an intimidation tactic masquerading as an economic theory. For decades, politicians (from both parties) and businesses have been employing this tactic in order to scare workers into paralysis. Think about the claims which trickle-down proponents have repeated over and over again:

  • “If you raise the minimum wage, jobs will be lost.”
  • “If you tax the wealthy, jobs will be lost.”
  • “If regulation of the powerful goes up, jobs will be lost.

In short, don’t push it, buddy.

And this Monday, Ted Cruz provided a perfect illustration of this bullying tactic. The Texas senator was asked by a mother of four “what he would do about the current lack of federally mandated paid family leave.” A very good question on a very important subject which affects all working Americans. According to Think Progress, Cruz callously replied:

Giving away free stuff is very easy for politicians to do, but the simplest rule of economics is TANSTAAFL — there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Anything a politician gives you, he must first take from you. And so if you have the federal government mandate paid medical leave,what that ends up doing is driving up the cost of labor for low-income workers.

What he’s saying is: don’t ask for too much or you’ll be priced out of a job. And just in case this mother of four missed the veiled threat, he hammers the point home when he adds, “And by the way, if you get fired or laid off, not only do you not get paid family leave but you don’t get a paycheck either.”

Do you see how slimy this strategy is? Do you see how strong-handed this approach is? Do you see how they are striking fear and doubt into the minds of American workers?

And this isn’t anything new. This is how Republicans and businesses have been framing workplace benefits for a very long time. They’ve perpetually tried to scare the American worker by threatening to cut their jobs if they ever asked for too much. (What they define as “too much” has been ever-changing. Forty years ago occupational health and safety fit under such a category, today it’s paid leave, tomorrow it may be vacation time.) In economically anxious times they know this intimidation tactic often works. Why take a chance and try to push for better benefits if your job is already in the balance?

The truth is paid family leave is actually good for businesses, the worker, and society in general. For businesses specifically paid leave improves worker retention, increases worker productivity, and improves employee loyalty and morale. How do we know this? Well, for one, paid family leave insurance programs “are already working well in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.” That’s right – paid leave already exists in the three states and none of those state economies has nosedived into economic catastrophe. As Think Progresshighlights:

Evidence from the first two states shows that [paid family leave programs] haven’t hurt employers. About 90 percent of California businesses say that it either had a positive impact or none on profitability, employee performance, and productivity, while it helped reduce turnover, saving them an estimated $89 million each year. Themajority of New Jersey businesses surveyed also said that it hasn’t hurt their finances and some saw a benefit.

The job-killing dystopia which Ted Cruz foreshadowed to the mother of four is simply a trick. Thankfully, we know why politicians like Cruz are continuing to sell this scam to the American worker: because if he can get workers to believe this scary tale, big businesses and their politicians win.

San Francisco Supervisor Calls For Fully Paid Parental Leave

baby feet

Photo: Jessica Major via Flickr Creative Commons

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener on Wednesday announced legislation that would make San Francisco the first city in the country to require companies to provide fully paid parental leave to employees.

While state law allows employees to get up to 55 percent of their wages for six weeks through disability payments, an ordinance Wiener plans to introduce later this month would require San Francisco employers to pay the remaining 45 percent.

The legislation, announced Wednesday with the support of the women’s rights organization Equal Rights Advocates, would apply to both mothers and fathers working for companies with 20 or more employees.

Full story: CBS SF Bay Area »

It’s Time to Get Real About Work/Life Balance. It’s 2016.

Stormtrooper sisyphus

Photo: Kristina Alexanderson via Flickr Creative Commons

When we talk about flexible work, what image comes to mind? It’s that same dang woman with the 1980s shoulder pads and grocery cart, right? Yet let’s get real: Ellen Galinsky, head of The Families and Work Institute, told me that their research shows that men actually work more flexible schedules than women do. Men even telecommute more than women. Why? Because more men are in positions of power. Affinity bias, or the Old Boys Network, ensures that men stay in those positions of power. And when you have power, you can control your time.

So let’s stop talking about how women lack ambition, or that they don’t have the drive—or the capability—to get to the corner office. Let’s get real: It’s time to carve different paths to the top, to re-design the way we work for everyone, even in the corner office, to reward focus, not multi-tasking, to value effectiveness, performance, and results, and not wear our long hours in the office like a badge of honor.

I was talking recently with Brad Harrington, director of Boston College’s Center for Work and Family who has pioneered much of the research on the evolving roles of men and fatherhood. We were lamenting how, when you say “work-life,” or “work-family,” people’s eyes tend to glaze over. Up rises the specter of that woman in a power business suit, wearing heels and wielding a shopping cart. We wondered if what we needed to grab people’s attention, and convince them how central these issues are, is new language.

But I’ve come to see that it’s not vocabulary that needs changing. It’s our thinking. That these issues have languished so long on the mommy track/women’s initiative backwater is nothing short of a colossal failure of imagination. Now it’s up to all of us to get real, to think bigger, and begin to make the real changes we all need in order to live a good life not in 2102, but in 2016.

Full story: Pacific Standard »

What’s missing from Amazon’s new parental leave policy

dad office babyAmazon made a big announcement [in November] about parental leave. This comes after the firestorm following the New York Times article on Amazon’s office culture (including how unfriendly it was to new parents).

In an email message forwarded to Jezebel, Amazon is now going to offer up to 20 weeks of parental leave for birth mothers, and six weeks for all other new parents. The policy includes a new “leave-share” program aimed to help Amazon employees share their leave time with partners who may not have a leave policy at their workplace. There’s also a “ramp-back” program, which is designed help new parents transition back to work.

“One hopes that [Amazon’s policies] are about boosting morale,” Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, tells Fast Company. The national network of 21 state and local coalitions aims to grow the movement for family-friendly work policies.

“All these policies are great,” says Bravo, especially the leave share, as it acknowledges that many partners need affordable leave but don’t get it. “You have to have a clear message from the top on paper,” she adds. But Bravo believes there’s something important missing from the announcement.

Full story: Fast Company »

King County vs. Seattle paid family leave: both a step forward, both need improvement


Erica C. Barnett

Seattle’s own Erica C. Barnett takes a closer look at recent paid family leave plans passed by Seattle and King County, and finds the city provides as little as four weeks guaranteed time off, while the county guarantees 12 weeks but requires long-term employees to exhaust as much as 10 weeks of their sick leave, reducing the actual parental leave time to two weeks:

Under the county system, new employees would benefit substantially more than workers with more tenure, because they would get 12 weeks paid leave no matter what. For example, a worker who had accrued two weeks’ vacation and sick leave would get to keep that leave and take 12 weeks off to care for a new child, no questions asked. However, given the long tenure of most county employees, and the speed with which county workers rack up leave (the average accrued leave, according to the county executive’s report on the proposal, is 460 hours, or just shy of 12 weeks), the parental leave policy would function largely as a way to spend down accrued employee hours, at minimal ($2.9 million) annual cost to the county. The caveat to that, of course, is that newer workers are more likely to be younger, and new parents (at least new mothers ) are usually under 40.

The city’s policy, by the way, has exactly the inverse impact. New workers, who haven’t accrued much leave yet, get to take the least time off (potentially only four weeks total, as guaranteed by the new policy), and more-tenured workers can take as much time as they have accrued. A city employee who has accrued, say, 16 weeks of leave could take up to 20 weeks off—four plus his vacation and sick time.

Each is better than the previous policy of no parental leave at all. But neither meets the international standard of 12 weeks of paid parental leave, period, on top of sick and vacation time. (As the county executive’s report on the program notes, “The United States stands virtually alone in not mandating paid leave of any type for its workers.”) The city’s provides as little as four weeks guaranteed time off; the county guarantees 12 weeks but requires long-term employees to exhaust as much as 10 weeks of their sick leave, reducing the actual parental leave time to two weeks.

Differences like this are exactly why we need a statewide family and medical leave insurance plan that guarantees similar benefits to all workers. The Washington Work and Family Coalition is working with champions in the legislature to assure all workers have access to paid family and disability leave through the FaMLI Act. Key elements of the FaMLI Act are:

  • Provide up to 12 weeks to care for a new child or seriously ill family member, and 12 weeks for the worker’s own serious health condition;
  • Provide benefits of 2/3 weekly pay;
  • Pay for benefits through payroll premiums of 0.2% paid by workers and matched by employers (less than $2.00 per week for the typical worker).

Read more about our proposal here – and be sure to sign up for email updates to keep up with the latest developments on this legislation during the 2016 state legislative session!

Netflix Just Made Another Huge Stride On Parental Leave

caption here

Photo: Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar/Flickr Creative Commons

Netflix is taking a huge step forward for the working parents it employs. Hourly workers were previously excluded from the company’s generous parental leave policy – but no longer.

The California-based tech company announced in August that it would give its salaried employees up to 12 months of paid parental leave to take at their own discretion. The Huffington Post reported at the time that the announcement left out the employees who work on the DVD side of the business, most of whom are hourly employees. Now the company is reversing its decision.

Beginning in 2016, hourly workers will get paid parental leave at 100 percent pay, with various lengths depending on which part of the company they work for.

Full story: Huffington Post »