The White House Summit on working families was last month, but we’re still riding the high of the momentum and energy cultivated at such a groundbreaking event. The fact that our nation’s leaders dedicated an entire day to issues that MomsRising members have been working on since we were founded in 2006 is huge. It’s a sign that the issues we care about, sometimes considered “soft” or siloed as only “women’s issues” are finally being seen for what they are: family and national economic security issues that need to be prioritized.
Paid sick days, paid family leave, and fair pay are vitally important to our families’ and nation’s wellbeing and economic security. I know firsthand how a lack of paid sick days and paid family leave can force people to choose between their health and their paycheck. When my mom, a lifelong nanny, was diagnosed with cancer, she delayed making doctor’s appointments and seeking treatment because she feared losing a day’s pay. The fact that she only had catastrophic health insurance and a $13,000 deductible didn’t help. While it was life saving treatment, at first she found the cost of missing work and paying for treatment out-of-pocket to be too great. That’s a calculation nobody should ever have to make.
Eventually, my mom did receive the treatment she needed, but then we encountered another issue. My dad, a carpenter, was unable to take time off from work to help care for her, both while she was receiving treatment and during her last days. Fortunately, I was at home for summer break during college and was able to step in, but I will never forget the injustice of it all. That’s why I’m humbled and proud to work on behalf of families like my own and thousands of others across America to fight for the workplace rights that we need and deserve.
It was an honor to spend my first day working at MomsRising at the White House Summit with so many MomsRising members, sharing our stories and strengthening the movement for family economic security and worker’s rights.
At the White House Summit on Working Families, it was clear our nation’s leaders really heard our voices, our stories, and our vision for policies that support working families.
A powerful theme echoed throughout the Summit: You are not alone. If you’re struggling to afford childcare, despite working more than one job, you are not alone. If you fear losing your job over staying home from work to care for your sick child, you are not alone.
Laura, part of the MomsRising contingent at the White House Summit, noted: “Listening to president Obama, our country's leader, as I sat among a sea of mothers, parents, and caregivers nodding in agreement, telling us about his own personal story of his mother and grandmother facing the same workplace challenges was so validating—it cemented for me that all our stories are part of the same story—reflecting the need for changes that support all American working families now.”
The importance of sharing our stories—and the fact that we all have stories to share—was celebrated at the Summit and it seemed that each high-profile leader began their remarks with funny and heartening stories of the juggling act we call work and family. How many of you have a spit-up story you can look back on and laugh about?
Meredith, a MomsRising member from Florida who attended the Summit, shared:
“I heard so many stories about families like my own, about families that are struggling to afford childcare, who need access to family leave or sick days, and about the need for more flexible work. These stories drove home the voices I had heard from people in my own community and made feel like we are not alone. Together, we can put pressure on lawmakers and businesses to meet the demands of 21st century workplaces that support working parents and change these stories to ones about families that are thriving.”
Despite the urgency we all feel around these issues, I must say, the summit was also filled with a great sense of hope. The stories we heard from workers who, because of smart employers do have access to paid family leave and paid sick days, helped us envision what our success will look like.
MomsRising member Sarah opened up the White House Summit’s breakout session on hourly wage workers by sharing one of these very stories:
“Let me say first that I love my job. I’m an executive assistant for a pharmaceutical firm. I’ve been there five and a half years and I find my work challenging, rewarding and interesting. I also have a little angel who is 10 years old who was born six weeks premature and diagnosed shortly after his birth with a rare kidney disease. He communicates with big smiles, belly laughs and an occasional frown. His name is Cameron, often called Cam. I am his voice and he is my world.
“Cam also has Cerebral Palsy. Most people have heard of this condition, but most don’t know much about the care someone with Cerebral Palsy needs. It’s a lot. Fortunately, I have an employer that understands that many people, like me, sometimes need time off from work to care for family members. And they understand that offering that leave is not just good for their employees, but also good for their business. It makes employees, like me, feel valued and that engenders loyalty.
“Supports like paid leave and being able to work from home is essential to my life balance. They help me be the best mom and professional I can be. And, in the end, that’s all we want. To succeed in all our roles.”
Isn’t that the truth?
Juxtapose Sarah’s story with that of Morvika, another MomsRising member who shared:
“I am a single divorced mom of two children. I was dismissed from a good paying professional position in 2009 for taking an extra 30 minutes during my lunch hour to attend an awards outing for my daughter’s good performance and grades in school. The continuous affirmations at the Summit of how workplace policies need to shift for working families was thrilling.”
Inspired by Sarah, Morvika, Meredith, and the thousands of MomsRising members who have shared their stories about the need for better workplace policies, we didn’t waste a moment’s time after the Summit in taking action to continue to push that shift. The next day, we were on Capitol Hill urging Congress to give our families and economy a lift.
In July, we ramped up our efforts around the FAMILY Act, with tens of thousands of moms urging their U.S. Senators to sign-on to co-sponsor this important paid family leave bill.
And on July 20th, we observed African American Women’s Equal Pay Day, signifying that African American women have to work through 2013 and halfway through 2014 to earn what white men earned in 2013 alone. If that outrages you as much as it outrages us, join us on Twitter using #BlackWomenEqualPay to discuss the wage gap’s impact, share our stories, and chat about solutions.
As African American Women’s Equal Pay Day indicates, we’ve got our work cut out for us, but we’re in this together and we know the White House is with us too. I truly can’t wait to see what we’ll accomplish in the next few years to strengthen family economic security and worker’s rights and I’m so glad we’re fighting this fight side by side.
TOGETHER WE’RE A POWERFUL FORCE FOR WOMEN AND FAMILIES.