Study: ‘B-minus’ for WA workplace laws concerning expectant and new parents

Photo credit: Diana Nguyen/Flickr Creative Commons

Photo credit: Diana Nguyen/Flickr Creative Commons

SEATTLE — The Evergreen State has room for improvement when it comes to protecting working families, according to a new report. The National Partnership for Women and Families gave Washington a “B-minus” grade in a recent study assessing states’ workplace policies to protect expectant and new parents – including paid family leave and workplace accommodations for pregnant women.

According to Marilyn Watkins, policy director at the Economic Opportunity Institute and head of the Washington Work and Family Coalition, there’s one bright spot for Washington parents who need time off to care for their children.

“Over a decade ago now,” Watkins said, “Washington passed a law that says that if you do have paid leave – paid sick leave or some other kind of paid time off – you can use that leave not only if you’re sick yourself, but also if you have a sick child, spouse, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent.”

Only California received an ‘A’ grade in the report. Both New Jersey and the District of Columbia received an ‘A-minus.’

A pregnant woman in Washington can also take as much time off as necessary without having to worry about losing her job, Watkins said. But she won’t necessarily be paid for that time.

Sarah Fleisch Fink, director of policy and senior counsel with the National Partnership for Women and Families, said that while Washington has taken steps in the right direction, workers in low-wage jobs are disproportionately affected by inadequate workplace protections.

“For workers in low-wage jobs, they are even less likely to have access to paid leave, they are even less likely to have access to paid sick days and to other protections,” she said. “And in many cases, they are even more in need.”

A state ballot initiative this year could help alleviate some of the financial stress for expectant and new parents, Watkins said. Initiative 1433 would raise the minimum wage statewide to $13.50 an hour by 2020, and also provide workers with paid sick leave. According to Watkins, more than a million workers in Washington currently don’t have a single day of paid sick leave.

“So, they are going to hugely benefit from having access to paid sick leave for the first time; so will their kids, so will the elders in their family,” Watkins said. “We’re all going to be healthier when workers aren’t forced to make the choice between going to work sick or putting groceries on the family’s table that week.”

Via Public News Service »

Paid family and medical leave: A cornerstone of equity and opportunity for workers and families

2016-05-Family-and-Medical-Leave-briefEstablishing universal paid family and medical leave in the United States is critical to restoring economic security for working families and overcoming the entrenched inequities of race, gender, and class that undermine our economy and squash opportunity for far too many.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly confirms the importance of paid parental leave to the health and well-being of young children. With our population aging, more workers have responsibilities for caring for older family members and are themselves more at risk of serious illness or injury that may also require a lengthy time away from work.

Currently in the United States, the highest income employees often have generous employer-provided paid leave benefits that allow them to nurture a new child, care for a parent with a health crisis, and fully recover from their own serious health conditions. Middle and lower income workers, on the other hand, have limited or no access to paid leave, forcing them to choose between their family’s health or economic security.

As of 2014, the United States and Papua New Guinea were the only two out of 185 countries and territories in the world that did not guarantee paid maternity leave. Most developed economies also provide paid paternity leave along with guaranteed paid sick leave and vacation time.[1]

Fortunately, programs in California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island provide highly successful models of family and disability leave programs that other states can replicate. Washington and other states can learn from the experience in these states to craft their own programs in ways that assure that all workers have access, regardless of income or occupation, and that businesses of all sizes can support their workers and communities and continue to thrive.

Adopting statewide paid family and medical leave programs to assure all workers access to paid leave is a crucial step toward overcoming health disparities and inequality in the U.S., and the key to eventual Congressional action to make universal and portable family and medical leave accessible to all U.S. workers.[2]

The benefits of paid family and medical leave include boosting infant and parent health, promoting family economic security and equity, protecting workers’ health, and supporting elder and family care. But currently, the benefits associated with lengthy paid parental leaves in the U.S. are available mostly to babies lucky enough to be born in one of the handful of states with a disability insurance/family leave program, or whose parents are highly paid professionals with especially generous employers. Extended time off work with pay to go through treatment and fully recover from serious illness or injury, or care for a family member, is also not available to most workers.

Federal and local policy successes – including the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act, and State Disability and Family Leave Insurance Programs – point the way forward. While Washington state’s progress has been somewhat stymied by business lobby opposition and economic downturns, the need for policy change on paid leave is increasingly in the national spotlight.

Despite all this activity, the U.S. remains a long way from universal paid family leave. While many individual business owners support paid leave legislation, most business lobby associations at the local, state, and federal levels oppose new labor standards and and actively campaign against them.[51] The path to eventual Congressional victory will be long and will require additional states to adopt programs and provide even more proof that family-friendly policies are fully compatible with a strong economy and strong businesses.

In the meantime, state lawmakers can learn from the proven results in states with Temporary Disability Insurance and/or Paid Family Leave laws on the books, where outcome for both workers have been positive and businesses have continued to enjoy success. Experience from existing state programs suggests that policy details and implementation strategies can be crafted to maximize the positive impacts of family and medical leave insurance on health and family economic security.

Policy considerations include:

  • ­Leaves need to be long enough to meet common basic health needs of workers, infants, and family members.
  • ­Wage replacement rates need to be structured so that low- and moderate-income workers can afford to take time off, along with higher income.
  • ­Providing job security to workers beyond FMLA will also enhance the ability of economically vulnerable workers to take leaves.

Implementation considerations:

  • ­Educational materials to employers must be clear and provided through a variety of methods. Employers need to understand what they must do to comply, with minimal confusion and paperwork. Most workers will find out about the program through their employers, so employers must know when an employee is likely to be eligible for benefits and where to direct the employee to apply.
  • ­Outreach to workers must also be multipronged and continuous, including through health providers and community organizations, particularly those who serve lower income and other vulnerable workers who are least likely to otherwise know about benefits available to them.
  • ­The application process must be simple, with help available in multiple languages and culturally appropriate ways.

The evidence is consistent and compelling: establishing family and medical leave insurance for all workers will reduce health disparities, dramatically improve outcomes for young children, enhance the quality of life of seniors, boost the lifetime earnings of women, and reduce the high social and public costs associated with poverty and inequality in the United States. We have proven policy tools to enact universal, portable, low cost systems at the state and federal levels now. Voters of all parties support adoption of these policies. It is time for Washington and other states to move forward.

Excerpted from EOI policy brief: Paid Family and Medical Leave: A Cornerstone of Equity and Opportunity for Workers and Families »

Will Washington workers be next in the push for paid parental leave?

Smiling Mother Playing With Baby Son At Home

When Beth* had her first two children, her employer’s paid family leave policy covered her family’s expenses while she took time off to recover and bond with her infants. Not having to worry about a gap in income meant she could focus on her maternity leave. But when she gave birth to her third child, Beth was working for a different company that did not offer a paid family leave policy. Still, she and her husband felt they could manage some debt in order to take unpaid time off.

Then, Beth was diagnosed with cancer just days before her baby’s first birthday. During the following year of cancer treatments, the family’s expenses piled up, along with their debt, as Beth took more unpaid time away from work.

Beth says that having a paid leave policy, either for maternity leave or to cover her cancer-related leave, would have better situated her and her family for her health crisis. “We’re still digging out of debt,” says Beth, who is now cancer-free.

For many employees, starting a family impacts the trajectory of their career and their family’s economic story in ways both foreseen and unanticipated. The way that an employee eases (or staggers) into parenthood creates ripple effects that can be felt for years, even decades, by families, workplaces, entire industries and our society. Research shows that parents who receive paid leave from work to recover from childbirth and raise their babies reap long-term benefits: When new moms are afforded paid maternity leave, they have fewer health complications and are more likely to be working and earning more money one year after the birth of their child, which leads to better economic, academic and social outcomes for children later on. It’s also been found that babies receive better preventive care when moms are given paid leave. When fathers have access to paid leave, they are more likely to take leave and are more involved in the direct care of their children. Paid leave actually improves businesses’ bottom lines, reduces stress among employees and improves morale among the employees who take leave and their coworkers.

“Paid family leave is the No. 1 policy that improves health and economic outcomes for all people. Even though we live in the world’s richest country, the wealthiest people here are dying earlier than in other countries. Our infant mortality ranks 37th worldwide,” says Teresa Mosqueda, political and strategic campaign director for the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “All of society benefits from paid family leave, not just the people who are taking the leave.”

Yet despite these known benefits, the United States is one of only two countries with no national paid maternity leave for mothers (96 countries also offer paid paternity leave). The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) ensures unpaid family leave for eligible employees, but this guarantee is available to fewer than 50 percent of workers. And it’s unpaid. What does this mean on the ground? One-quarter of working mothers will have to return to work within two weeks of bringing a new child home. One-quarter of all poverty spells in our country stem from the act of having a baby.

While efforts to establish a national paid parental leave law have so far failed, progress is happening in both the private sector and at the state legislative level. Hear this, Washington state parents: Our turn could be right around the corner. Advocates say this state is closer than ever to passing a program that would, quite literally, change the way workers from Seattle to Spokane, from Kirkland to Kennewick, become parents and navigate both family life and work life after that milestone. Like the handful of states that have led the charge launching paid family leave, Washington state is on the cusp of something big.

So what does this possible change — a major upgrade to our lives that would affect attorneys, kindergarten teachers and grocery clerks alike — need to move from imagination to implementation? You.

Full Story: ParentMap »

This Is What Parental Leave Really Looks Like In America

shuller family photoAmerica is facing a national crisis. It is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t offer paid time off to new parents — and moms and dads are struggling.

The current national policy, the Family and Medical Leave Act, only offers parents 12 weeks of leave — but that’s unpaid, if the parents are even eligible. A handful of states have tried to compensate with their own paid leave laws, but with only four states nationwide that offer them so far, they’re the exception, not the rule.

As a result, families are at the behest of their workplace to determine how much time off they’ll get with their new baby, if any, before they have to go back to work. In a system that depends on employer generosity, the results leave much to be desired: Only 12 percent of private-sector workers have paid family leave.

When parents don’t have paid family leave, the outcomes are devastating: 1 in 4 working moms return to work less than two weeks after giving birth. They suffer higher rates of depression and stress, and their babies experience more health risks as they are breastfed less and brought to fewer medical appointments.

Families as a whole suffer without paid leave, as parents are forced to take unpaid time off to be with their new child, causing some families to fall into poverty.

The Huffington Post spoke to eight families across the country to see how they brought their babies into the world without assured paid time off. These are their stories »

Spring legislative update and action items!

Happy Spring Friends and Colleagues! Here’s a recap of the 2016 legislative session and tips on how YOU can help advance policy for Washington women and families in the coming months.

olympia springtimeLegislative Recap

The 60-day legislative session ended on March 10th. Despite early hopes, in the end, outcomes were disappointing. You can read more about how our three priorities (Family and Medical Leave Insurance, Equal Pay and Pregnancy Accommodations) fared in Olympia in the context of Women’s History Month in Marilyn’s blog

Take Action During The Election

elections_aheadIf you’re feeling as disappointed as we are with our progress so far this year — then get busy! It is election season after all, and you have the chance to make a difference in who will represent you in Olympia in 2017. The most important thing you can do: Ask your candidates where they stand!

This link leads you to questions you can ask at candidate forums, legislative meetings, community events and legislative district meetings. If you are pleased (or not pleased) with the response, post on our Facebook page, and let us know if candidates need follow-up information.

i1433The most exciting initiative of the season

Raise Up Washington is leading the effort on Initiative 1433, by far the most exciting state ballot initiative of the season. It will allow all workers in the state to earn paid sick leave, and increase the minimum wage in 4 steps to $13.50 by 2020!

The campaign is running a volunteer only (!) signature gathering effort to collect over 250,000 signatures by the beginning of summer. YOU can help! Use this linkto volunteer to gather signatures, or contact Samantha at Raise Up Washington: 206-709-1313 (office) or 206-595-4668 (mobile).

Washington legislators commemorate Women’s History Month…with dead gender equity bills

Can you name each of these female "firsts"?

Can you name each of these female “firsts”? Answers here. (Image and text courtesy of NARAL Pro-Choice America)

While women in other states can celebrate recent strides toward equality, here in Washington our state Legislature marked Women’s History Month by closing down its 2016 regular session on March 10 with bills attacking gender inequity…dead in their tracks.

Progress was within reach – even given the partisan divide between the House (Democrat) and Senate (Republican). After all, bills to strengthen equal pay protections and ensure pregnant women could ask for reasonable accommodations at work (like bathroom breaks and a stool to sit on) had passed with bipartisan support in other states. Surely similar bills would have a chance in Washington, in an election year no less!

At first, prospects looked promising. The Equal Pay and Opportunities Act passed Washington’s House 56 to 41, with six Republicans joining all the Democrats. It would have assured workers could discuss pay without retaliation and closed loopholes that allow some employers now to get away with discriminatory pay and hiring practices.

But when the bill moved to the Senate, Republican leadership kept the name and stripped out worker protections, replacing them with new protections for employers to impose wage secrecy. The amended bill, if passed, could score points with voters even as it limited worker rights for the benefit of corporate interests. Fortunately, the three Democrats on the Commerce and Labor Committee – Senators Hasegawa, Conway, and Keiser – refused to go along, and the bill died.

Versions of a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act passed both the Houseand Senate. But the Senate bill excluded all nonprofit employers – including big hospitals and other major organizations that employ large numbers of women, often in long, physically demanding shifts. When the House fixed that and other shortcomings, the Senate refused to concur, so that bill died, too.

Meanwhile, the FAMLI Act failed to even get a committee hearing. It would have created a system modeled after successful programs in other states to provide all workers with up to twelve weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, care of a seriously ill family member, or for the worker’s own serious health condition.

The Legislature did manage to send a bill to the Governor that will create a new rape kit tracking system – but only after removing the funding that would have actually allowed for testing those kits.

We could get discouraged – but let’s get busy instead.

When the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848, women didn’t have the right to vote, pursue diverse professions, control property or make decisions about their children’s welfare if married. They didn’t win those rights by politely asking for them or giving up after a few tries.

Women and male allies organized, marched, petitioned, practiced civil disobedience, and went on strike. They faced ridicule, arrest, and physical violence. In fact, Women’s History Month itself has itsroots in a 1908 strike by women garment workers in New York City, who demanded better working conditions, an end to child labor, and the right to vote.

When women won the vote in 1920, many believed full equality was close at hand. The first female Cabinet member, Frances Perkins, who served as Secretary of Labor from 1933-1945, helped establish key policies that still provide a firm foundation for millions of working men and women today: the minimum wage, overtime, Unemployment Insurance, and Social Security.

During World War II, women joined the workforce in droves – and Washington state passed its first Equal Pay law. But during the 1950s and ‘60s, employers still openly practiced sexual and racial discrimination in hiring. Professional schools limited the number of women in each class. And schools rarely offered girls’ sports. The notion that women had innately different skills and abilities, and simply were not suited to male pursuits, seemed to prevail.

It took a whole new women’s movement, and another round of equal pay and equal opportunity legislation, to open career and educational choices that have brought us to today, where women earn the majority of college and graduate degrees and make up half the U.S. workforce.

Still, those gender and racial wage gaps persist. Workplace practices remain stacked against women, and too many of our state’s elected leaders are ignoring and discounting what it takes for workers to provide for their families, and keep themselves and their loved ones healthy.

To make things right, Washington’s women – and their male allies – will have to again stand up, make noise, and demand change.

So what are we waiting for?

Original: South Seattle Emerald »


Answers:

  1. Althea Gibson became the first African-American and first female African-American tennis player to win a singles title in tennis at Wimbledon in 1957.
  2. Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1981. As a justice, O’Connor was as a key swing vote in many important cases, including upholding Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. She retired in 2006.
  3. Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American woman elected to Congress in 1969.
  4. Hillary Clinton became the first woman to win a presidential primary contest in 2008.
  5. Frances Perkins became the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet in 1932.
  6. Tammy Baldwin became the first openly lesbian woman elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012.
  7. Sally Ride became the first American and LGBT woman to enter outer space in 1983.
  8. Nancy Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the House in 2007.
  9. Ella Fitzgerald became the first African-American woman to win a Grammy award in 1959.
  10. Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to U.S. Congress in 1916.
  11. Mazie Hirono became the first Asian-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012.
  12. Madam C.J. Walker became first African-American female self-made millionaire in the early 1900s.
  13. Wilma Mankiller became the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma in 1985.
  14. Madeleine Albright became the first female Secretary of State in 1997.

The US needs paid family leave — for the sake of its future

In this incisive talk, Jessica Shortall makes the impassioned case that the reality of new working motherhood in America is both hidden and horrible: millions of women, every year, are forced back to work within just weeks of giving birth. Her idea worth spreading: the time has come for us to recognize the economic, physical and psychological costs of our approach to working mothers and their babies, and to secure our economic future by providing paid leave to all working parents. Via Ted.com »