Paid Parental Leave Should Be Extended To All

moms and kids

Image via New Zealand Education Union/Flickr Creative Commons

Amazon has joined the growing list of tech companies to expand paid parental leave policies. Earlier this year, Microsoft, Netflix, and Adobe also announced more time off for new mothers and fathers.

Between them, Microsoft and Amazon have over 60,000 employees in the Seattle area. The City of Seattle, King County, Port of Seattle, and Gates Foundation – which collectively employ about 30,000 people here – also added paid parental leave benefits for their workers this year.

That adds up to a lot of local families who will benefit – but represents only a tiny fraction of the over 1.3 million jobs in the county and the more than 25,000 babies born in King County each year.

We have mountains of research showing how important the first few months of life are for a child’s long-term health, brain development, and social skills. Quality time with parents is critical. That’s why almost every other country in the world guarantees all new mothers, and often fathers, lengthy periods of paid leave.

Promoting the well-being of children and gender equity are among the goals of local governments taking action, but the tech companies aren’t acting out of concern for infant brain development. They are in cut-throat competition for trained talent, and trying to counter well-earned reputations for lacking diversity, being hostile to women and unfriendly to families. Netflix’s much ballyhooed offer of up to a year of paid parental leave callously excludes the folks who mail out all those DVDs. Amazon’s new policy fortunately does extend to full-time distribution workers.

It’s good that some employers are stepping up on their own, since Washington’s legislature and Congress have so far failed to act to establish paid family and medical leave for all workers. But until we act collectively to ensure that all new parents and children have this important benefit, we will continue to exacerbate the racial, gender, and class inequities that plague our society.

According to the US Census, 20% of King County households have annual incomes over $150,000 – including many of the employees of those techie companies. About half of Seattle-area households have incomes at or above the $72,000 that it takes around here for a family of four to pay for housing, food, childcare, and transportation without relying on public assistance.

But that means half struggle to cover the basics. It’s not just high-wage, high-benefit jobs that are booming here. So are jobs in food service, personal care, retail, and other services where pay is low and shifts are irregular. These workers are often parents, too. Many also have elder care responsibilities, and they juggle it all without access to pricey time-saving conveniences.

Nearly one in four households in King County scrape by on less than $25,000 a year. One third of single moms – and their children – live below the official poverty level ($20,000 for a family of three). For our youngest kids, the disparities by race are especially stark: 45% of Black children and one-fourth of Latinos under age five live in poverty, compared to 6% of young White kids.

The thousands of small businesses out there will have a hard time providing much paid parental leave on their own, and many big corporations won’t unless they are required to.

Last January, Washington’s legislature introduced a bill that would provide all workers in the state – whatever their income level – with up to 12 weeks of family leave, and up to 12 weeks for their own disability. People would receive two-thirds of their usual weekly pay when caring for a new child, sick family member, or recovering from their own serious health condition. To finance the system, workers would contribute a small payroll premium, matched by their employer, of a little over a dollar a week for the state’s typical worker. This simple insurance model is already working in California, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Hawaii.

The bill made it through the House Labor Committee, but was not prioritized for serious consideration by the full Legislature. Will the growing attention from high-profile announcements and the Presidential race be enough to give the bill some legs in 2016? Not unless legislators get a serious push from their constituents to take action.

Original: South Seattle Emerald »

Paid Family Leave Back on Drawing Board in Washington State

Paid family leave programs are linked to improved health outcomes for children and families. Credit: manuere/Morguefile

Paid family leave programs are linked to improved health outcomes for children and families. Credit: manuere/Morguefile

SEATTLE – The issue of paid family leave is coming into the forefront in Washington again.

The state is among eight recently selected for a federal grant to research the benefits of implementing a paid family and medical leave program. The $247,000 grant will allow Washington to put the paid leave program, adopted by the Legislature eight years ago, back on the drawing board.

Marilyn Watkins, policy director with the Economic Opportunity Institute, says a study will compare benefits vs. costs, and the impact on families and businesses.

“Another part of it will be to look at existing state programs and services and how a family and medical leave insurance program would interact with those and really allow them to work better,” says Watkins.

The Family Leave Insurance Act was approved in 2007 but tabled due to a lack of funding. Under federal and state law, workers are guaranteed up to 12 weeks of leave for pregnancy, newborn and medical care situations, but it is unpaid time.

Watkins says with paid family leave, the state can save on public assistance, child-care subsidies, and senior home care. And she adds research shows it boosts worker earnings, increases employee retention and improves health outcomes for children and families.

“We all understand how important it is that parents be able to stay home with their newborn children and really nurture and care for those new young lives, for mothers to recover their own health following childbirth and to really give the baby their best possible start in life,” says Watkins.

Funding the program will not be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, explains Watkins. She says
workers would contribute to a trust fund through a small payroll premium, and then draw from it when on family or medical leave.

“Employers are not having to foot the bill when people are out on extended leave and also the state isn’t footing the bill through other existing state revenues,” she says. “It’s a new source of revenue and makes it a completely self-funded program.”

California, Massachusetts and New Jersey are among states that have passed similar paid leave laws.

By Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service – WA

Why Does Becoming a Mom Mean Potentially Losing Your Job?

Washington State’s Failure to Mandate Paid Parental Leave Hurts Gender Equity, Parents, and Kids

Photo: Frank de Kleine/Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Frank de Kleine/Flickr Creative Commons

My best friend from graduate school and I will both become first-time mothers this year. As a citizen of Ireland, my friend will be able to stay home with her baby for almost a year and then return to her present career path. As an American state employee, I can either stay home with my child or maintain my current career trajectory—and I’m one of the lucky ones because I get to actually make a choice.

Irish law includes a “maternity benefit” that pays 80 percent of wages to new mothers during the first 26 weeks after birth, and can begin two weeks before birth if needed. An additional 16 weeks of unpaid leave is optional. In the United States, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires that employers grant only 12 weeks of leave to new mothers, and payment of wages during this time is decided state by state. Only California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island offer paid leave; Washington State passed a law in 2007 requiring paid leave for new parents, but it hasn’t gone into effect because it lacks funding.

If I don’t want to leave my baby at three months of age to go back to work, I will give up my job in—ironically—global health and look for work again once my child goes to school. And to my knowledge, none of the places where I currently freelance, including The Stranger, offer paid maternity leave or anything beyond the federally mandated 12 weeks of unpaid time off. In a part of the country where global-health work is incredibly competitive and underfunded, I’ll most likely be scraping the bottom of the barrel to get back into the workforce. But my Irish friend will be able to jump back into her field with the seniority and security she’s built up over the last 10 years since we graduated and parted ways.

Numerous studies prove that women who receive paid maternity leave are more likely to return to their jobs, thereby remaining contributing, upwardly mobile members of the workforce, so why is the United States the sole industrialized country in the world that doesn’t mandate some amount of paid leave?

Full Story: The Stranger »

Mother is calling on Gov. Inslee to fund paid maternity leave (Video)

Rebecca Valley, a new mom who works as an Administrative Assistant in Everett, is calling on Governor Jay Inslee to fund paid maternity leave. When she gave birth 11 months ago to her daughter Matilda, Rebecca planned to use her three weeks of paid time off to care for her newborn. She ended up needing to take an additional two weeks of unpaid leave because of an unexpected C-section. Then she went back to work – before she or Matilda were ready – in order to pay the bills.

Rebecca is asking Washington residents to sign a petition, urging the Governor to fund an existing state law that provides for paid family leave.

Click to watch video (opens in new window)

Click to watch video from KIRO TV (opens in new window)

Five states have paid family or disability leave programs funded through payroll premiums. New moms and babies are healthier in those states, and women are more likely to be working – and for higher wages – a year after childbirth than in states without paid parental leave.

Washington passed a Paid Family Leave Law in 2007, which was supposed to go into effect in 2009. But lawmakers didn’t approve funding, and then the recession hit. Paid Family Leave has taken a back seat to other issues ever since. This year, two Washington lawmakers introduced bills to fund the program, and to include leave to care for an elderly parent or other family member or the worker’s own serious illness. The bill passed the House Labor Committee and could be passed by the full legislature next January.

What will it take to make paid family leave a priority in Washington’s legislature?

EOI’s Policy Director Marilyn Watkins responds to KIRO reporter Siemny Kim: “Every time I see a pregnant woman, I get a little frustrated and mad that we don’t have that program operating yet. Lawmakers have to hear from the public.”


Every Washington legislator has a mom — so why don’t more of them care about “moms”?

Photo: Sean Dreilinger/Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Sean Dreilinger/Flickr Creative Commons

Moms just can’t get a break these days. Data released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, show that having children is one of the worst career moves a woman could make. According to their research, mothers in Washington are 44% less likely to be hired than non-mothers for the same job, and are paid less than non-mothers, averaging 78 cents to a man’s dollar.

Women of color and single mothers are more likely to experience this motherhood penalty. A PEW report found that 40% of all households with children under the age of 18 included mothers who were either the sole or primary source of income for the family. The majority (63%) of these women were single mothers and were more likely to be black or Hispanic and less likely to have a college degree.

Pay inequities, coupled with a lack of “parent-friendly” benefits, including paid family leave and paid sick leave; contribute to significant barriers to mothers remaining in the workforce. Some mothers may feel forced to reduce their hours or opt out of the labor force altogether to take care of a new child, but not all women have that choice.

Seattle claimed a huge victory when Mayor Murray announced that Seattle city employees will receive four weeks of paid parental leave under a new plan. The King County Council recently established a new policy that working parents employed by King County will receive up to 12 weeks in paid parental leave after a birth, adoption, or new placement of a foster child.

Four cities (Seattle, San Francisco, Washington D.C.,  Chicago, and Austin, TX) provide paid parental leave – and for good reasons. Research shows “parent-friendly” laws actually increase women’s labor market attachment, promote economic growth and reduce spending on public programs, such as food stamps. However, access to these benefits depends on your occupation and geographic location.

Women don’t grow up dreaming of all the struggles they will face should they decide to become mothers.  And no one can prepare for having to choose between career and family. Jobs are the core of the American economy and should allow workers to meet their individual and family needs. To reverse these disparities we need to enact new family-friendly policies and strengthen existing ones.

While some cities and states have stepped up to make advances in leveling the playing field, a majority of women are still facing impossible decisions. In Washington, efforts to ensure statewide paid sick and safe leave and provide paid parental leave have been stalled by our state legislators, despite the progress in our cities. Let’s hope our elected leaders step up to do the right thing for women, mothers and families instead of settling for “good enough.”

By Janna Higgins, Graduate Policy Intern

Equal Pay, Paid Sick/Safe Leave, FAMLI Act Legislative Update: April 1, 2015

Late yesterday, Senator Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, cancelled today’s meeting of the Washington Senate Commerce and Labor Committee which he chairs. Since today, April 1, is “cut-off”, that means that the equal pay, paid sick days, and minimum wage bills heard in committee on Monday are essentially dead for this year.

But all of this year’s bills can be reconsidered again, starting next January. The Washington Work and Family Coalition will be working hard in the meantime to be sure that all of our priorities are priorities for our legislators in 2016.

And you can help send them the message.

Women deserve equal pay whether they live in Spokane or Seattle, Yakima or Grays Harbor, Bellingham or Vancouver. Yet we heard in testimony Monday that employers across the state impose wage secrecy policies, so no one knows if some co-workers are getting paid more than others for the same work. And managers in high tech companies, grocery stores, and hospitals use their discretion – and assumptions about gender roles – to more often recommend men for promotion and assign them to higher paying departments. That is why we need to pass the Equal Pay Opportunity Act.

We also know that everyone gets sick, but 1 million workers in Washington get no paid sick leave, and even more are discouraged from using the sick leave they’ve earned. Every day in every school district in our state, sick kids are waiting miserably at school because no adult in the family can leave work to pick them up. Children as young as 9 or 10 are missing school to stay home with their sick younger siblings because their mom can’t risk missing another day of work.

The Washington State Board of Health, in a comprehensive health impact review of House Bill 1356, establishing Paid Sick and Safe Leave, concluded: “Evidence indicates that HB 1356 has potential to improve financial security; decrease the transmission of communicable disease; improve health outcomes; and to decrease health disparities by income, educational attainment, race/ethnicity, and geography.”

Meanwhile, with over 20 U.S. jurisdictions now requiring paid sick leave, including Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland, we know that businesses thrive with healthier and more productive workers and more financially stable customers.

And we haven’t forgotten Family and Medical Leave Insurance, which “died” in the legislature a few weeks ago. No one should have to forego needed surgery or drag themselves back to work before they’ve fully healed because they don’t have enough paid leave. Our elders should have family surrounding them through serious illnesses and during their final weeks of life, whether they’re part of the 1% or the 99%.

Every baby born or adopted in our state deserves several months of uninterrupted, unstressed time with their parents while their little brains and bodies are developing most quickly. We know from states with universal paid family and medical leave programs already in place that babies and moms are healthier, both moms and dads take longer leaves from work, fewer families are forced to rely on public assistance, and more moms are employed and for higher pay a year following childbirth.

Equal pay, paid sick days, and paid family and medical leave are all simple concepts that the vast majority of voters support – whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent, whether they live in a big city or not. The Washington Work and Family Coalition will continue fighting for these policies.

Let your elected officials know that you will, too.

“What more could my wife and I have done to deserve time with our new child?” [VIDEO]

Patrick Williams, a soon-to-be dad, has a pointed question for Washington state legislators about whether they’ll take action on family and medical leave insurance (HB 1273):


Click to watch video (opens to TVW website)

Full text: “Good morning. My name is Patrick Williams. My wife, Caitlin, and I are eagerly awaiting the birth of our first child.

I met Caitlin in San Francisco, where I had my first real job after earning a degree in Computer Science from the University of Washington. Caitlin was attending Berkeley at the time, and she went on to get her Masters from Cal State.

We both pride ourselves in working hard, and making the most of our opportunities.

Two years ago, Caitlin and I moved from California to my home town of Seattle. We bought our first house, across the street from my parents. We’ve endured the endless “Everyone Loves Raymond” references, knowing that it was going to be a perfect place to raise kids.

When I was in San Francisco, coworkers regularly took time off  to take care of their spouses and newborns, using California’s paid family leave program. It made all the sense in the world. They weren’t going to be able to focus at work knowing that their loved ones needed them.

But now that we need family leave, we don’t have it.

Now this is no sob story. We’re going to be fine.

But given that both my brother and I were 10+ lbs babies, I suspect Caitlin’s going to need some recovery time. I worked through the holidays, and I’ve stopped taking days off sick, because how can I justify taking off time now, knowing that it means a day I don’t get to spend with my newborn later?

My question to you is this: What could I have done differently to deserve more time with my newborn?

Caitlin and I prioritized education, worked hard, bought a house, and got married. I’ve been so fortunate, and done everything “right”, and even I won’t get much time with my baby and caring for my wife if she has a rough delivery.

I can’t pretend to understand the political forces at work, preventing the benefits that everyone in California takes for granted from being available in the state I love so much.

I’m hoping you can help. Because not everyone gets this lucky, and we’re still scared.

Please, pass family and medical leave insurance now, so it’s available when we have our second child – and for all the other families in the state who are even more terrified about how they’ll cope than we are.

Thank you.”

Read Patrick’s full testimony here [PDF]