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.

Workers, Business Owners, Electeds Travel to White House Summit on Working Families

Local Leaders in the Fight for Paid Sick Days, Family Leave and Equal Pay Bring Campaign to the other Washington

WhiteHouseSummitWashington workers, business owners and elected leaders will bring experiences from their fight for paid leave and equal pay laws to the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families in Washington, D.C. on Monday.

Washington’s White House Summit delegation includes working families champion Representative Laurie Jinkins, retail worker and Tacoma sick days advocate Amanda DeShazo, restaurant owner Makini Howell and Washington Work and Family Coalition leader Marilyn Watkins.

At the pre-summit forum at Tacoma Community College Wednesday evening, local women shared stories about the challenges facing working women and families. Wendy Banks, a meat cutter at a local grocery store, shared how she had to repeatedly lobby management in order to be trained in the profession traditionally dominated by men. “My dad was a meat cutter. I worked in the meat department for years, but every time I applied for training as a cutter, there was some excuse why I was denied. Then I found out that men without any grocery experience were being hired straight into the role. I filed a grievance, and finally got a shot at the higher paying job.”

Di Inman, co-owner of Positive Approach Dog Training and Daycare, described growing up with a breadwinner mother who could not take a day off when her kids were sick. “We’ve offered paid sick leave and fair wages from the time we bought our business,” said Inman. “Because we prioritize our employees, morale is high and our business has grown. No one has abused our policies. When you treat people wonderfully, they become wonderful people!”

State Representative Tami Green and Senator Jeannie Darneille also shared personal experiences that have convinced them that adopting legislation for paid sick days and family and medical leave insurance is critical for women and families. “Our state’s prosperity depends on women’s economic security and success,” said Green.

Nearly 1 million workers in Washington don’t have access to a single paid sick day, and only 12 percent of the U.S. workforce has access to paid family leave to welcome a new child or care for an ailing parent. Washington women earn just 78 cents on every dollar – amounting to $10 billion in lost annual income due to the pay gap. Policies like paid sick days, family and medical leave insurance and equal pay laws build economic security for working women and families.

“A 21st century workforce needs a 21st century workplace – the White House Summit will bring together local and national leaders ready to make that happen,” stated Marilyn Watkins, policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute and leader of the Washington Work and Family Coalition. “Women make up half of the U.S. workforce, but our workplaces haven’t caught up with that reality. Paid leave – whether to welcome a new baby or care for a sick child – and equal pay protections are key policy reforms that will help women and families thrive.”

At the Summit, President Obama will join activists, workers, caregivers and other elected officials from the Family Values @ Work network and elsewhere to focus on creating a workplace that works for all. The president has made the women’s economic agenda a critical component of his efforts to rebuild the economy. In his 2014 State of the Union, he called for an end to ‘Mad Men’-era policies, and in a recent appearance in Orlando he urged Congress to bring the United States in line with “every other advanced nation on Earth by offering paid leave to folks who work hard every day.”

President Obama’s leadership reflects growing national momentum and grassroots advocacy for policies that value families. Last year, three cities – New York City, Portland and Jersey City – passed paid sick days laws, joining San Francisco, Seattle, D.C. and the state of Connecticut. So far this year, Newark passed a similar ordinance and New York City expanded its sick leave law. Citywide laws or ballot initiatives are currently under consideration in Chicago, Eugene, Ore , Tacoma, 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 Washington, New York, Colorado and other states considering similar legislation.

“Together, we can make our families healthier and stronger,” stated Rep. Laurie Jinkins who sponsored the statewide paid sick leave bill this year. “At the White House, I’ll be sharing stories from business leaders who tell me that high-road employment practices – like sick leave or fair pay – are common  sense, effective and smart ways to both do right by their employees and ensure their company’s long-term success.”

Choosing between your child and your job

Owen

Melissa Broome, a leader for the Maryland Campaign for Paid Sick Days, writes about her son’s recent surgery and the plight of children whose parents can’t be with them in the hospital. ‪

When my four-year-old son was recently discharged after undergoing facial reconstructive surgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, many friends and family members asked how I was holding up, how I was handling the stress and lack of sleep and all that comes with spending a week in a hospital. Those who have been through the experience know that the last thing you’re thinking about is yourself.

Being at a children’s hospital — especially one as world renowned as Hopkins — was one of the most humbling experiences that I will ever have. We spent our days surrounded by children who had been there for months, who had been diagnosed with chronic illnesses and who aren’t necessarily going to get better. We were awoken at night by the screams of children crying out in pain, while our child, for the most part, slept soundly. We felt guilty admitting that we were heading home when so many seemed to have no end in sight.

Thanks to incredible support from our bosses and an ample supply of paid sick days, my husband and I were able to be there for every minute of Owen’s stay. My only job while I was at Hopkins was to be his mom. Every time he was poked or prodded, I was next to him to hold his hand and whisper in his ear. I like to think that nothing could have pried me away, but I also know that I had the luxury of not having to worry about how my family would make ends meet while we were missing work. This should be the norm, but in our country, where 40 percent of workers don’t have access to a single paid sick day, it’s not.

I was taken aback during our first day in the pediatric ICU to see how many children — and oftentimes babies — were there by themselves in those cold, sterile rooms. When parents started showing up in the evening, it suddenly occurred to me that people who are trying to hold onto their jobs can’t necessarily spend all day, every day next to their child’s hospital bed. We were lucky in that we only had to figure things out for a week. I can’t imagine how parents cope when they have a child facing a long-term illness but no paid family medical leave.

Even Owen picked up on what was happening around us. When we took him for a walk one day, pulling him along in his big red wagon, we passed a room where a young boy was sitting alone inside. Owen immediately looked up at me and said with concern, “Where are that boy’s mommy and daddy? Why is he in there all by himself? He shouldn’t be by himself.”

I spoke to a mom in the family kitchen one evening whose 18-month-old daughter was about to be discharged with a feeding tube that would have stay in for at least two months. Her day care won’t take children with feeding tubes. I was at a loss for words when she said, “I don’t know how I’m going to be able to keep my job. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Given that I spend my professional life advocating for family friendly workplace policies, I didn’t expect to be so overcome with emotion when I saw how these policies — or lack thereof — play out in a place like a children’s hospital. Before this experience, I certainly thought I believed in the importance of paid sick days and paid family medical leave, but nothing could have prepared me for what it takes to be a hospital parent.

Once you walk through the doors of that children’s ward, it doesn’t matter your background, your income, your education level, etc. We are all just moms and dads who would give anything to be able to take the place of our kids, who are desperate to see them get through whatever battle they’re facing with the least amount of pain possible.

It is well established that children get better faster when their parents are able to care for them. I’m grateful that I was able to be a mom at a time when my son needed me most, but I also know that I’m one of the lucky ones. In a state where over 700,000 workers lack paid sick days, we all need to work harder to convince our elected officials that no parent should have to choose between the pediatric ICU and their job.

Originally published in the Baltimore Sun.

No one should be forced to choose between their job and their family. Help us make sure they don’t have to. In 2015, Washington state lawmakers can pass paid sick days and family leave. Join our work and take action today!

Growing Attention on Paid Leave as a Dimension of Inequality

MomsRising

Via MomsRising

President Obama, in his most recent State of the Union address,  predicted that fighting inequality would be the “defining project of our generation.” The President’s forecast reflects a growing concern among most Americans about rising economic inequality. Conversations about inequality often focus on the wage gap between those at the top and those at the bottom. However, increasingly, advocates, policymakers, and members of the public have come to recognize that other aspects of compensation, such as paid family and medical leave and earned sick time, are an important part of the equation. The relationships between inequality and these policies, along with others that enable workers to do their jobs and care for their families, are the focus of several new reports.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released, Work-Family Supports for Low-Income Families: Key Research Findings and Policy Trends, which provides an overview of research on the effects of paid family leave, paid sick leave, and workplace flexibility on the well-being of low-income working parents and their families. The paper notes the positive impact such policies have on child development, parents’ financial stability, employers’ productivity, and the public health. Pamela Winston, the author of the report, explains, “[A]ccess [to these policies] is highly skewed by wage levels and other job characteristics in ways that mean the lowest income families tend to have the least access to all types of work-family benefits.” Given the host of benefits associated with access to leave and flexibility, the paper underlines how unequal access further exacerbates existing inequalities.

A recent examination of data from the National Health Interview Study (NHIS) by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) also highlights the ongoing stratification of access to paid sick days. IWPR’s brief shows that fewer than three in ten workers making $19,999 a year or less have access to any paid sick days. In contrast, among those making $65,000 or more annually, eight in ten workers have access to paid sick days. Access to paid sick days also varies by race. Only 47 percent of Latino workers have access to paid sick days, compared with 64 percent of white workers and 62 percent of black workers.

CLASP’s recently published brief, Access to Paid Leave: An Overlooked Aspect of Economic & Social Inequality, highlights other ways that lack of earned sick days and paid family and medical leave can entrench inequality, including the potential for job and wage loss among workers who lack protections but must take time away from work to care for themselves or their families. The brief also points to a recent survey showing that nearly half of low-wage workers (those in the lowest 25 percent of the wage scale) lack any form of paid leave: no vacation, no personal days, no sick days, and no family leave.

Media outlets have also been paying attention to this aspect of economic inequality. In a recent New York Times piece, Judith Warner argued that public policies to support working families are an obvious and simple part of the solution to growing inequality. Warner got at the crux of why unequal access to paid leave needs to be addressed as an urgent economic issue: “What this all means is that the people who are already in the most precarious economic circumstances are the most at risk for devastating loss of income – and assets – when they need to care for their children.” This is also true for workers who become ill themselves or need to care for other sick family members, such as parents or siblings.

With Thomas Pikkety’s book on inequality flying off the shelves, it is clear that Americans are eager to find solutions to the many problems that contribute to the current injustices in our economy. Paid leave and other policies to support workers with caregiving responsibilities are a critical but often overlooked part of the solution.

Via CLASP

Advocates Back Paid Sick Leave, But Opponents Won’t Cough It Up

Last month, New York City began requiring employers to provide paid sick days, joining the ranks of other cities such as Washington, Seattle and San Francisco. Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP

Last month, New York City began requiring employers to provide paid sick days, joining the ranks of other cities such as Washington, Seattle and San Francisco. Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP

If you’ve ever seen your waiter sneeze, you may have asked for a different server. If you’ve seen one sneeze repeatedly, you might wonder why he’s still at work, serving tainted food.

See, most restaurant workers don’t get paid when they stay home sick. But, some go to work anyway, when they’ve got the sniffles or worse, because they need the paycheck.

For labor advocates, that’s a problem.

“The fact that we’re forcing people to go to work sick is not something we want to do as a society,” says Maryland state Rep. John Olszewski Jr., a Democrat. “We shouldn’t put people in a situation where they’re forced to make impossible choices between themselves and their work and their families.”

Last month, New York City began requiring employers to provide paid sick days, joining the ranks of other cities such as Washington, Seattle and San Francisco.

But while several cities have been willing to impose such requirements, states have been more reluctant. Olzewski’s bill attracted a majority of his fellow state House members as co-sponsors, but went nowhere this year.

Instead, a number of states — particularly in the South — have passed laws that block local governments from imposing sick day requirements on businesses.

Get the full story from NPR »