This year the White House, in cooperation with the Council on Women and Girls, hosted a conference on Workplace Flexibility. The conference came on the heels of a report by the Council of Economic Advisors on the benefits to employers of offering paid leave and flextime, official guidance on caregiving discrimination by the EEOC, and – perhaps most importantly – a $50 million line item in the FY2011 Department of Labor budget to create a State Paid Leave Fund to provide grants to states to establish paid leave programs.
Advocates celebrated. And then we waited for Congress to act. We’re still waiting.
President Obama and his cadre of official advisors can talk a good bit about the importance of paid leave. They can make recommendations, can publicize, cajole, and plead but ultimately the power to mandate paid leave – be it sick, maternity, paternity or elder-care related – rests with Congress.
Once again, Congress has failed to consider the bill that funds programs that matter to working families – the Child Care Block Grant, Head Start, National Family Caregiver Support, etc. – and potentially the State Paid Leave Fund before the fiscal year begins. They didn’t take up the Healthy Families Act, the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act, Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act, Family Leave Insurance Act, Paid Vacation Act, or the Military Family Leave Act.
Congress needs to mandate leave. Enough of arguments that employers will come around, that such legislation will burden business or destroy our economy. Similar arguments were made about the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established a minimum wage; about Title VII, which prevents workplace pregnancy discrimination; about the Family and Medical Leave Act, which grants a small percentage of workers limited, unpaid leave. The U.S. business community adapted to the aforementioned legislative and regulatory changes, and so too will they adapt to mandatory paid leave.
I have concerns that legislating paid leave could result in a backlash against hiring women, particularly those of childbearing age. But when I weigh the potential backlash against our state-by-state patchwork of worker protections, anything is preferable to what we’ve got now, which can be summed up as "not much,” especially for low-wage, hourly, or part-time workers.
I wonder how we can continue without government intervention. For most U.S. employees, your work life balance, your ability to telecommute, to have flextime or comp time, to have paid time off, or to job share, is only as good (or bad) as your manager, your department head, your unit, or your company. Most of us are one job reclassification, downsize, merger, acquisition, or reorganization away from the disappearance of these benefits.
MomsRising members need to reward paid leave champions by helping them GOTV in November. We need to encourage each other to run for office, to ask more of our employers, to vote out Congressional representatives that refuse to support working families, and to share effective targeting and organizing techniques. We know that every family will need paid leave. Let’s work together to give families the ability to recover from illness, injury, or caregiving with the dignity they so rightly deserve.
Excerpts from this post originally appeared in Work. Life. Policy.