Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett are kicking off a national tour to promote paid leave policies around the country. The Lead on Leave road show starts in Seattle this coming Wednesday April 1st, part of a national campaign to increase paid leave for all working families.
Why Seattle? Jarrett said Seattle is the first stop on the tour because the city has already demonstrated that raising the city’s minimum wage, as well as enacting paid sick leave, has yielded benefits for employers and workers. “It’s a good place to start,” Jarrett said in a phone interview, saying “we will work tirelessly to try to make sure every single American that we can possibly cover is covered by a sick-leave policy.” Besides Seattle, both Sea-Tac and Tacoma have passed paid sick leave ordinances in Washington – and Spokane is kicking off a campaign as well.
The Lead on Leave tour is part of President Obama’s push to pass paid leave in states across the country. Obama expressed support for paid sick leave and parental leave in January in his State of the Union Address: “Today, we are the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers. Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave — 43 million. Think about that. And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home. So I’ll be taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own. Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave. It’s the right thing to do.”
Obama has continued his support by expanding parental leave for federal workers in January and is asking Congress to consider a proposal to provide workers with seven days of paid sick time. Unfortunately, the chances of passing the policy through the GOP-controlled Congress are slim. According to Secretary Perez, the federal level may not be the fastest place to push progressive policy forward. He says that he and others have studied how social-policy movements have built success – and it’s often not at the federal level. “The history of civil rights and labor rights and women’s rights is about persistence. So much of what becomes law in Washington starts out as an experiment in different states.”
The country has seen record-breaking momentum during the last two years for paid leave legislation. Already this year, 3 cities (Tacoma, WA, Philadelphia, PA and Bloomfield, NJ) have passed paid sick days bills, marking a total of 3 states and almost 20 cities.
Paid parental leave is growing nationally as well. A recent study conducted by the National Partnership for Women & Families looked at the effects of paid family leave bills in the 3 states with the legislation (California, New Jersey and Rhode Island). The results illustrate the benefits of paid family leave, which include improved health of parents and children and reduced reliance on public assistance.
Studies also show that new moms in states with disability and maternity leave insurance programs have fewer health complications, are more likely to return to work in the year following a birth, and are also more likely to have higher wages over time.
The Labor Department has already awarded $500,000 to states around the country who applied for funding to conduct feasibility studies on paid leave. This summer, an additional $1 million in federal funding will be distributed. “I’ve never seen more applications for such a small amount of money,” Perez said about the first round of grants his department distributed. “Federal paid leave is a ‘when’ question, not an ‘if’ question. It’s such a kitchen-table issue that keeps people up at night.”
After Seattle, the tour will head to other states that have already passed paid leave in some form or are considering legislation: California, Oregon, Colorado, Minnesota, Georgia and Pennsylvania, along with other locations in the Northeast.
Economic Opportunity Institute’s Policy Director Marilyn Watkins supports the national movement: “It should never be a matter of luck whether a parent can afford to spend the first precious weeks and months of life with their newborn child. It shouldn’t be a matter of luck whether someone can recover from surgery before dragging themselves back to work. There’s nothing more important to our future than our children. And building the health and economic security of our families will boost our whole state economy.” As President Obama says, “It’s 2015. It’s time.”
See you on Wednesday, Tom and Valerie!
Want to learn more about paid leave and show your support for the national tour? Stay tuned for more details about the timing and location of the event in Seattle!
By Sam Hatzenbeler, MPHc