Happy 21st Birthday FMLA!

3808089294_8f01d519e6_oCongress improved working conditions for millions of women and families across the
nation when they passed the landmark Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) twenty-one years ago. However, today millions of workers are still without access to paid leave and many are forced to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a sick family member or themselves. In order to better meet the needs of today’s workers and businesses, Congress must act to expand FMLA.

By ensuring people would have job-protected leave for medical and care giving purposes, FMLA helped millions of workers meet the dual demands of job and family by caring for a new baby, an ailing family member, or their own health.

But while FMLA was a big step, the legislation still falls short of ensuring all working families have access to family and medical leave. FMLA does not cover companies with fewer than 50 employees – and it only guarantees unpaid leave, which millions of people cannot afford to take. The law does not provide for part-time workers, nor does it cover non-serious or habitual medical illnesses such as the flu. As a result, 40% of the workforce has no access to FMLA, or finds it very difficult to use the benefits provided by the law.

Following the doctor’s orders to stay home when sick shouldn’t mean losing needed family income or risking your job. The FMLA is a major success for working women and their families but more needs to be done to ensure our leave policies address the needs of a modern workforce.

The Washington Work and Family Coalition believes paid leave is a basic workplace right and we’re leading the fight for state-wide legislation to ensure all Washington workers have access to paid sick days and family and medical leave insurance.

It’s time to empower working families across our state to keep themselves and their kids healthy without risking their family economics. Join us at our upcoming Community Forums in Spokane, Vancouver and Bellingham to advance FAMLI (Family and Medical Leave Insurance) legislation and make paid leave a reality for all Washington families!

By Sarah Van Houten, MPAc Graduate Intern

Paid Parental Leave: The Status of Women 50 Years Later

logoFifty years ago the President’s Commission on the Status of Women recommended that paid maternity leave be provided to improve conditions for working women. While the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was an important step in improving access to leave for new parents, the United States is still without a federal maternity or family leave statute. This month, the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor released a full paper series commemorating the 50th Anniversary of American Women: Report of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. As part of this series, the Institute of Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) prepared a paper that reviews data on the benefits of paid parental leave from the perspectives of individuals, families, employers, and the economy overall.

The report found that paid family and medical leave programs can have significant benefits to individuals, to businesses, and communities.

Economic Benefits

  • Improved Labor Force Attachment:
    • Women who are offered paid leave are more likely to return to the labor force in the year after they give birth than women who are not offered paid leave. Additionally, paid leave has been shown to have a positive effect on post-birth work outcomes.
  • Costs and Benefits to Firms:
    • Paid leave leads to negligible costs to employers in terms of temporary employee replacement costs or overtime paid to existing employees and has much greater potential gains in terms of employee morale and productivity.
  • Expands Economic Growth:
    • Paid leave can lead to increased labor force participation, increased fertility rates, and reduced spending on public assistance. Family friendly policies can help push the economy towards gender equality in the labor force, therefore mitigating the effects of a shrinking, aging workforce and increasing GDP.

Health Benefits

  • Increases initiation and length of breastfeeding:
    • Breastfeeding can increase bonding between the child and nursing mother, stimulate positive neurological and psycho-social development, and strengthen a child’s immune system. Breastfeeding has also been shown to reduce the risk of health problems and disease.
  • Reduction in the risk for infant mortality
  • Increases well-baby care and vaccination rates
  • Improves mother’s emotional well-being and mental health
  • Maternity leave allows mothers to increase the quality of care given to her child and can help prevent postpartum depression and stress

Family benefits

  • Greater paternal engagement in caregiving:
    • Fathers who take time from work around childbirth are more likely to spend more time with their newborns, which could reduce stress on the family and contribute to father-infant bonding.

FMLA, which provides men and women with job-protected leave for a number of caregiving purposes, has provided many American workers with unpaid leave for moments when family had to come first. But the law falls short of what families really need: universal coverage and income.

To qualify for FMLA you must work for a company with at least 50 employees and have worked 1,250 hours in the past year. That means part-time workers and small business employees aren’t protected. And most working families can’t afford to take two months off of work without income forcing many to choose between caring for their family or providing for them.

According to the report, the U.S. is “the only high-income country, and one of only eight in the world, that does not mandate paid leave for mothers of newborns”. Moving forward, IWPR urges the U.S. to catch up to other developed nations and address today’s workforce realities for both mothers and fathers through more comprehensive legislation. A paid family leave and medical insurance law would help build a more productive workforce, promote economic competitiveness, and bring substantial health benefits to individuals, employers, and society.

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.”

Strengthening Women’s Economic Security

June 18 forumA community conversation on policies that support working women and stronger, healthier families with Representative Tami Green and local champions for women.

June 18th from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Tacoma Community College
Building 11

Hosted By: AAUW Tacoma, Children’s Alliance, Economic Opportunity Institute, Healthy Tacoma, League of Women Voters of Washington, Legal Voice, Pierce County Labor Council, Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, SEIU 1199NW, Take Back Your Time, Teamsters 117, Washington State Labor Council, Washington State Senior Citizens’ Lobby and the Washington Work and Family Coalition

Note: There is free parking in the TCC parking lot.