CHN: Advocates Push Congress to Pass Family-friendly Workplace Legislation

Citing a lack of family-friendly policies, especially for low-income workers, advocates have been calling for legislation focused on work/life balance to move through Congress. The Healthy Families Act, introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) , would create a national paid sick days standard, with workers accruing sick days to use for their own medical needs, care for an ill family member, or address issues related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Earlier this spring, a bipartisan majority of U.S. senators, including 44 Democrats, 15 Republicans and two independents, voted in favor of a nonbinding paid sick days amendment. To date, four states, 19 cities, and one county have passed earned sick days laws, and there are ongoing campaigns in a number of other cities and states.
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, championed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave per year that workers could use when they or a family member have medical issues, or to care for a newly born or adopted child. The program would be funded with modest employee and employer payroll contributions. As CHN previously reported, the United States remains the only high-income country that does not guarantee paid family and medical leave. In fact, almost half of workers in the lowest 25 percent of wage earners have no paid time off at all – no sick days, personal days, vacation, or family or medical leave. Nearly 80 percent of workers earning less than $15,000 per year lack access to sick days.

Last month, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was reintroduced, this time with bipartisan support. Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Dean Heller (R-NV), Robert Casey (D-PA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) jointly introduced the legislation, which would help prevent employers from forcing pregnant women out of the workplace and help ensure that employers provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women who want to continue working. The National Employment Law Center, National Partnership for Women & Families, the National Women’s Law Center, and other advocates are also calling on Congress to raise the minimum wage (Raise the Wage Act), close the wage gap between men and women (Paycheck Fairness Act), give workers predictability and stability in their schedules (Schedules that Work Act) and expand the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover workers in smaller businesses and those who need to care for extended family members (like grandparents and siblings) to make workplaces more family friendly and level the playing field for low-wage workers.

In addition, the White House’s recently-proposed rule change to extend overtime protections to workers making up to $50,440 would benefit nearly 5 million workers by giving them more money or more time with their families. Women, African Americans, Latinos, workers under 35, and workers with lower levels of education would benefit the most. The Department of Labor is taking comments on the proposed rule from the public through Sept. 4; that input will be used to determine what to include in the final rule next year. For more information, see CHN’s related blog post, 5 Things to Know about Fixing the Overtime Rule.

In contrast, many advocates believe that the Working Families Flexibility Act, introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) is a bad deal for workers. The bill claims to give hourly workers more flexibility by allowing them to choose paid time off, or “comp time,” for working more than 40 hours a week instead of getting paid overtime. As CHN’s blog and a fact sheet from the National Partnership for Women & Families show, however, it would actually leave workers with less flexibility, less time, and less pay.

Labor and Employment