Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘paid leave’

Help the Women of Walmart Today

Friday, December 1st, 2017

My mom died without me by her side because my boss at Walmart wouldn’t let me leave work.

In 2015, my mom had a stroke, so I upended my life in North Carolina, and moved to Texas with my son to take care of her. When I found a new job, I explained I was there to look after my dying mom, so I would need a flexible schedule to take care of her.

Walmart supervisors ignored my requests time and again, and when I got the call that she was about to die, my boss told me I’d be fired if I left.So she died without me there, as I listened on the phone and cried.Never Alone

My story isn’t unique: you can walk into any Walmart store and hear stories just like mine. Being a Walmart worker means being expected to put up with poverty pay, inflexible schedules, and disrespect from bosses.For the majority of store associates like me, the regular folks who stack the shelves and work the registers, working at Walmart often means being punished when we need to be there for our families. I wasn’t allowed to leave work to be with my mom when she died, and I know of other Walmart workers who can tell similar stories. One Walmart associate I know had to go back to work with week old newborn at home, only to find her hours and pay got slashed when she had a baby.But even if you already know how badly Walmart treats workers like me, you might be still be shopping at Walmart without even realizing it.Bad Behavior By Any Name

Earlier this year, to try and win over the kind of customers you don’t often see in big-box stores, Walmart bought several online brands including ModCloth, Moosejaw, and Bonobos.Walmart is trying hard to sell more online to compete with Amazon, but they’re having a hard time. I think it’s because too many people know about Walmart mistreat workers.That’s why Walmart has kept pretty quiet about taking over these brands. If you go to the ModCloth website, for example, they tell you all about how the site was started by high school sweethearts in their college dorm, but they never mention that ModCloth is in fact part of Walmart.What you do find is a lot of talk about women’s empowerment, and they make a point of featuring plus-size models in their photos. ModCloth definitely wants you to think that they’re a women-friendly company.But how can you be women-friendly when you’re owned by a company like Walmart that treats women workers like me so badly?Taking Back Walmart

On Cyber Monday, I joined other Walmart workers to launch our #ByeModCloth campaign. We’ve collected signatures from 100,000 former ModCloth customers and allies who aren’t falling for Walmart’s tricks.Ours is a message Walmart won’t be able to ignore, and it’s not too late for you to add your name. I’m a member of OUR Walmart, a community of Walmart associates, and together we’ve talked to hundreds of former ModCloth customers about what it’s like to work at Walmart. Most of these shoppers had no idea the company had been bought by Walmart. When we told them, they were outraged and promised to stop shopping there.One even told us finding out Walmart owns ModCloth was “adult feminist version of finding out Santa Claus isn’t real.”I’ve got bad news: Santa Claus isn’t real. And Walmart really does own ModCloth.That’s why ModCloth’s talk of being great for women is just that – all talk. ModCloth is owned by Walmart, and Walmart’s policies of low pay, unfair schedules, and no paid leave are hurting hundreds of thousands of women like me.Help the Women of Walmart

Even though most Walmart associates are women, most senior execs are men. They won’t reveal if they pay men more than women, but a study in 2003 found that the average Walmart man makes $5200 more than the average Walmart woman. No wonder there have been over 2,000 claims filed at Walmart alleging bias in pay and promotions.  It’s a disgrace, but the sad truth is that Walmart doesn’t listen to workers like me. They chew us up and spit us out, and never treat the work we do for them with respect. But they do listen to their customers, especially the customers of the new online brands they’re pinning their hopes on. That means if you’re a ModCloth customer, then Walmart is listening to you, and Walmart workers need you to use your voice.So here’s what I’m asking every one of you to do: keep your eyes open, and know where your money goes. If you’re a customer of ModCloth, now you know that you were shopping at Walmart, and you can help us now.If you think workers shouldn’t be treated the way I was treated, sign our #ByeModCloth pledge. And if anyone from their customer service team asks you why, tell them that the women of Walmart sent you.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on December 1, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tiffaney Meredith is a member of the OUR Walmart community of Walmart associates.

Republicans want to give corporations yet another tax cut and call it paid family leave

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Americans want paid family leave—something people in most nations around the world already get. So it sounds like something to cheer that there’s a paid family leave provision in the Senate Republican tax plan, right? Yeah, no. This is very much a Republican family leave proposal, which is to say it’s a giveaway to big corporations that won’t get much for working Americans. 

The bill would give companies a tax credit for a small proportion of the worker’s pay, companies only get the credit at the end of the year—so if they can’t afford to offer leave up front, they can’t take advantage of it—and it expires in 2019.

“It’s a flimflam,” said Ellen Bravo, co-director at Family Values@Work, a national coalition of paid leave advocates. “It’s pretending to say we’re giving you something new that people urgently need when, in fact, it’s a giveaway to the bigger corporations that can already afford to do it.” […]

Several conservative economists agree. This kind of tax credit would most likely be embraced by companies that already offer paid family leave, wrote Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar in economic policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

“This is only a small step forward in this debate, not a giant leap,” Mathur said. “Much more can and should be done.”

Not to mention, including something they can call paid family leave is a great Republican trick for pretending their giant tax cuts for rich people package is good for working families. And—like this flimflam proposal—it’s just not.

Call your senators now at (202) 224-3121 and urge them to vote no on this giveaway to corporations and the wealthy at the expense of working families.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on November 17, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

The Issue of Paid Family Leave Just Got Some New York Size Momentum

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

GELClogoOn April 4, New York State passed what is being hailed as the most comprehensive and generous paid family leave law in the country.  The Paid Family Leave Insurance Act (A. 3870 / S. 3004) (“PFLIA”) will provide workers in New York State with up to 12 weeks of paid leave per year, to bond with a new child, or to care for a seriously ill family member.  For military families, the leave time can be used to address legal, financial and childcare issues.  Notably, unlike the federal Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), coverage does not include taking care of an employee’s own medial condition.  That means, if unrelated to childbirth, employees would still need to seek time off under New York State’s Temporary Disability Insurance (“TDI”) program.

Beginning in 2018, all full and part-time employees who have been working at their jobs for at least six months will be eligible for eight weeks of paid leave up to one-half of their weekly wages, capped at 50% of the New York Statewide Average Weekly Wage (“SAWW”).  These payments will gradually phase in over four years until 2021 when workers will be entitled to 12 weeks of leave, for benefits up to two-thirds of their weekly salary, capped at a maximum of 67% of the SAWW.

The current SAWW is $1,266.44, through June 2016 (with predicted increases each year).  So, the benefit will be robust.  For instance, if an employee received family leave benefits today that would mean s/he could receive up to $633.22 per week; or $844.29 if the two-thirds rate was in effect.  As compared with maximum benefits workers in New York are eligible to receive under its Temporary Disability Insurance (“TDI”) program that’s a big improvement.  That program caps recipient benefits at a mere $170 per week.  Until now, TDI was the only financial recourse postpartum women in New York were eligible for – unless their employers wanted to be more generous (sometimes true for large corporations, rarely for smaller employers).  Although, beginning in 2018, women still would not be entitled to paid family leave in order to recover from their own childbirth recovery, they would be eligible to receive paid family leave to bond with their child at a vastly improved weekly wage replacement rate.

The PFLIA program is a fully employee-funded program, meaning, unlike several other states and localities, employers will not have to contribute to the cost.  Rather, employees will pay into a state sponsored insurance program and payments to workers will be paid out through this program.  These contributions will start at as little as 45 cents per week when the law goes into effect in 2018.  Thereafter, New York’s Superintendent of Financial Services will analyze what amount of funding the program needs based on the cost per worker of providing paid leave.  While the total per employee contribution remains unknown, an important premise behind the legislation is that employee contributions should represent a very small deduction from each employee’s weekly paycheck.  It is estimated that by year four that deduction will be 88 cents per week.

Significantly, paid leave is protected leave.  All qualified employees who take paid family leave will be entitled to return to their jobs.  If employers violate the law, employees will be entitled to reinstatement and back pay.  Unfortunately, there is no private right of action to go into Court.  Claims will have to be administered through the New York Worker’s Compensation Board which handles violations of the TDI law.

Several other states are now looking to follow New York’s lead.  Ohio just introduced a 12-week paid leave bill the same week New York’s law was signed.  Connecticut has introduced a bill as well that would entitle employees to be compensated up to $1,000 a week.  The proposed bill would cover employers with as little as two employees.

In 20 states, legislation has either been introduced or is being actively pursued.  Each of these proposed bills and programs strikes a different balance.  Some states would provide fully employer-funded paid programs, while others base their programs on models similar to that used in New York, making their proposed paid family leave benefits solely through employee contributions, and some are a mix of both.  What is covered under each of these proposed laws varies too.  Some cover all employers, while others limit coverage to larger employers, although many require less than the FMLA does with 50 or more employees as a basis for coverage.

These laws undoubtedly will offer a new generation of workers the family-job balance that previous generations did not have.  Not only will employees be less likely to face devastating economic choices when they decide to have children or need to care for a loved one, but as studies show, when family leave is paid, women are far less likely to be forced out of or choose to opt out of the workforce when having children.  This in turn will decrease a persistent wage gap between men and women who have children.  In addition, further studies document that men are far more likely to take family leave when it is paid, thereby bringing men and women closer to wage parity and more likely to share domestic responsibilities at home.

Nonetheless, as evidenced by this patchwork of laws and proposed bills, paid family leave – some, all or none – creates inequality among American workers when states offer inconsistent opportunities for work-life balance.  Even worse, many states still have no paid family leave laws on their books, and do not seem close to passing such legislation in the near future.  This result strongly emphasizes the need for national legislation that would allow us to join the rest of the industrialized world.  But as a start, we New Yorkers’ are proud of where our efforts have led – to the strongest, broadest, most generous paid family leave law in the country!  This law will make all the difference to the estimated 6.9 million workers in this state.

For more information about what you can do to support and/or expand family leave laws in your state check out what your legislators are doing and join family leave campaigns.  Or, contact us at the Gender Equality Law Center.

Allegra L. Fishel is the founder and Executive Director of the Gender Equality Law Center (“GELC”), a 501(c)(3) legal and advocacy center.  GELC’s mission is to advance laws and policies that promote gender equality in all spheres of public and private life.

Lauren T. Betters is a 2015 law school graduate of Northeastern Law School and GELC’s first Law Fellow.

Paid sick leave coming to a fifth state: Vermont

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Vermont is about to become the fifth state in the U.S. with a paid sick leave law. The state House, which had previously passed a sick leave bill, this week passed the state Senate’s version of the bill, described as “somewhat more business-friendly.” That usually means “somewhat less worker-friendly,” but it’s still a major advance:

The measure calls for employers to provide workers three paid sick days a year for the first two years that the law would be in effect and five thereafter.

It does not cover employees working fewer than 18 hours a week or 21 weeks a year.

The bill is headed to the desk of Gov. Peter Shumlin, who supports it. Vermont will join Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, and Oregon as states with paid sick leave laws. A number of other American cities and towns—many of them in New Jersey—have similar laws. And, of course, most other countries in the world have this basic, common-sense policy.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on February 18, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.

 

 

Can A Website Give Mothers A Leg Up In The Workplace?

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

Bryce CovertAt two months pregnant and the mom of a one-year-old, Georgene Huang found herself looking for a job after a management shakeup at her employer, Dow Jones. She knew that she’d be needing to take maternity leave shortly after starting any new position and would also need a work culture that would support her leaving the office in time to pick her kids up.

But when she searched the internet, she couldn’t find any information on what employers might fit the bill. So instead of finding a new job, she decided to reach out to her former Dow Jones coworker Romy Newman and launch her own project to address this very problem: Fairy Godboss.

The website has been up and running since March, and it aims to be a place where women can come to leave reviews of their companies, browse through both a researched and crowdsourced database of company policies, and connect with each other about their experiences.

Huang and Newman did some research before launching and were surprised at what little information is publicly available. “We went through the websites of top Fortune 100 companies, and of them only five actually listed what their maternity leave policy is,” Newman said. “In some cases, they extensively list other benefits — health care coverage, copays, everything else — and then they just say we have maternity benefits but don’t say what they are.” They also conducted a survey, finding that 80 percent of women said they didn’t know their company’s maternity leave before they started working there and about a third were disappointed when they learned what it actually was.

“We thought, ‘Let’s create transparency around this and give a place where women have an opportunity to go and find out what maternity leave is at a company where they might work,’” Newman said. “We think that women want to have a better experience in the workplace, and we think employers want to give them a better experience…but there hasn’t been a clear and transparent dialogue. We want the site to be a place where that conversation can happen.”

The core of the site is the company reviews from women, which ask women to attest to where they work and verify their email addresses before they can post anonymously. Users can also message others about their employers to ask questions and can leave anonymous confessions about both positive and negative experiences. But the founders are committed to making it a positive environment. “We don’t want to be a place where women go and complain,” Newman said.

The site isn’t just geared toward higher-income women in white collar-jobs, either. It’s getting responses from baristas, retail employees, and nurses, as well as partners at consulting firms and senior directors at investment banks. “We’ve seen a whole range,” she said. It passed the 4,000-review mark a few months ago.

“There are so many taboos, especially around the balancing of a family and balancing a job for women,” she said. “Women are afraid to show that they wouldn’t be giving as much as anyone else…they don’t want to be suddenly mommy-tracked.”

The site’s next plan is to rope in employers, giving them a platform to share their benefits information. “Employers have the very best intentions, but it’s hard for them to always know and see what’s going on in their ranks,” Newman said. The site can help bridge that gap.

It’s not the only project trying to fill that information gap. A number of other sites have recently launched to crowdsource and research companies’ benefits and atmospheres so that employees — women and men alike — aren’t so in the dark as they try to get hired.

They’re all responding to a fundamental fact of life in the American workplace: the U.S. doesn’t require employers to offer paid family leave, just 12 percent of employees get it, and other benefits fall behind what’s on offer in developed countries. Yet women are often penalized at work when they become mothers. So asking about benefits can be tricky — necessitating some other source of information. Websites like Fairy Godboss have now stepped up to be that source.

About the Author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

This blog was originally posted on ThinkProgress on December 23, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Marco Rubio's Paid Family Leave Plan Would Do Little To Expand Paid Family Leave

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

The Daily KosFour in five Americans thinks companies should be required to “offer paid leave to parents of new children and employees caring for sick family members.” So trust a Republican to come up with a paid family leave policy that doesn’t require anything and benefits business, not workers. Marco Rubio is the one Republican presidential candidate with any plan on this issue, and experts say it wouldn’t expand paid leave to many workers who don’t already have it.

Rubio would give tax credits to companies that offer paid leave. The problem is, such tax credits already exist for other things the government wants to encourage companies to do—and we know that it doesn’t work very well.

The government offers tax credits to encourage companies to do other things, like hiring veterans or people with disabilities and offering on-site child care. But there is little evidence that these credits significantly change employers’ behavior. Employer-sponsored child care is still extremely rare, for instance, and a subsidy for firms that hire various disadvantaged workers has been found to have little effect on their employment.

Rubio’s plan would be a nice reward for companies that are already doing the right thing by offering paid leave, but it’s unlikely to mean paid leave for workers who don’t already have it, and that means once again leaving low-income women in the dust. Hillary Clinton policy adviser Ann O’Leary writes that:

The companies that don’t offer [paid leave] tend to have large and mainly lower-skilled workforces. But that’s the rub?—?the people who need paid leave the most are the very people that Rubio’s plan ignores. While everyone should have access to paid family leave, it’s particularly vital for, say, a mother working at a low wage, because she’ll likely have less in savings. […]Consider this fact: In the early 1960s, just over 16 percent of women with less than a high school education had access to paid maternity leave after the birth of their first child. Today that number has not moved at all?—?still only 16 percent of our least educated workers have paid family leave.

But for women with a college degree or more, in the early 1960s, 14 percent had access to paid leave and today that number is over 64 percent. We have literally not moved the needle at all to help our least empowered workers have access to paid maternal leave.

We need policies that actually change this, expanding paid family leave to people who cannot afford to miss a week of pay, not policies that exist to get attention for Marco Rubio as the lone Republican talking about paid leave.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on September 28, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

The Real War on Families: Why the U.S. Needs Paid Leave Now

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

sharon-lernerInvestigation reveals the devastating effects of the lack of paid family leave: Our data show nearly 1 in 4 employed mothers return to work within two weeks of childbirth.

Leigh Benrahou began laying plans to have a second child almost as soon as she had her first, a daughter named Johara, in 2011. Benrahou, 32, wanted to time the next birth so that when she returned to work, her mother, who works at an elementary school and has summers off, could babysit. Most importantly, Benrahou wanted to spend as much time as she could with her new baby while also keeping her relatively new job as the registrar at a small college.

While her husband, Rachid, 38, earns enough at a carpet cleaning company to cover their mortgage and food, without her paycheck they’d be forced to live close to the bone. And if she quit her job, Benrahou, who has a masters in nonprofit management, would take a big step backward in what she hoped would be a long career in higher education.

So Benrahou, who has wavy dark blond hair, blue eyes and a tendency to smile even through difficult moments, set about what may be the least romantic aspect of family planning in the United States: figuring out how to maximize time with a newborn while staying solvent, employed and, ideally, sane.

Only in America

Most people are aware that Americans have a raw deal when it comes to maternity leave. Perhaps they’ve heard about Sweden, with its drool-inducing 16 months of paid parental leave, or Finland, where, after about 9 months of paid leave, the mother or father can take—or split—additional paid “child care leave” until the child’s third birthday.

But most Americans don’t realize quite how out of step we are. It’s not just wealthy, social democratic Nordic countries that make us look bad. With the exception of a few small countries like Papua New Guinea and Suriname, every other nation in the world—rich or poor—now requires paid maternity leave.

Paid parental leave frees mothers and fathers from choosing between their careers and time with their infants. For women, still most often the primary caregivers of young children, this results in higher employment rates, which in turn translates to lower poverty rates among mothers and their children.

Research shows that paid leave can also be a matter of life and death for children. By charting the correlation between death rates and paid leave in 16 European countries, Christopher Ruhm, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia, found that a 50-week extension in paid leave was associated with a 20 percent dip in infant deaths. (The biggest drop was in deaths of babies between 1 month and 1 year old, though mortality of children between 1 and 5 years also decreased as paid leave went up.)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 13 percent of U.S. workers have access to any form of paid family leave, which includes parental leave and other time off to care for a family member. The highest-paid workers are most likely to have it, according to BLS numbers, with more than 1 in 5 of the top 10 percent of earners getting paid family leave, compared to 1 in 20 in the bottom quartile. Unionized workers are more likely to get benefits than nonunionized workers.

What do the rest of American women do without a law that guarantees this basic support? Some new mothers who don’t get paid leave quit their jobs, which can leave them desperate for income and have serious consequences in terms of work opportunities and lifetime earnings. Others may choose not to have children (though it’s impossible to definitively quantify how the difficulty of integrating work and childbirth factors into those decisions). And some try to stitch together their own paid leaves through accumulated vacation time and personal days, or through independently purchased insurance policies.

The best-laid plans

Though her employer doesn’t offer paid leave, Benrahou figured she’d create her own, taking time away from work through the Family and Medical Leave Act, which entitles new parents to up to 12 weeks off, unpaid. She knew all about the law’s loopholes—that, for instance, it only applies to workplaces that have at least 50 employees. Hers did; she wouldn’t have taken the job if it hadn’t. She knew, too, that she had to have worked for her employer for at least 12 months to qualify. That part was trickier.

She had started her job in February 2014, which meant that she wouldn’t qualify until the following February. She counted back nine months from then and got to May, but then, to be safe, tacked on another two months in case the baby came early, so: July. That’s when she and Rachid would start trying for a second.

Then there was money. Reluctant to lose 12 weeks of income, Benrahou decided to opt into her employer’s disability insurance policy, paying roughly $40 a month into the plan so she could receive 60 percent of her salary for up to six weeks of her maternity leave, plus an additional $1,000 toward the cost of her hospital stay. She would also save up her two weeks of annual paid vacation time.

Numbers crunched and policy purchased, Benrahou went off birth control on schedule in July and became pregnant within a month. But her carefully laid plans started to go awry in her 20th week, when she was diagnosed with placenta previa, which can result in early delivery. Despite some bleeding and cramping, and several brief hospital stays that used up her sick days, Benrahou stuck to her plan, working as much as possible after her diagnosis in order to save her precious vacation time. But, in late December, her water broke. Though her due date was April 1, Leigh Benrahou gave birth by C-section on Christmas Eve—too soon to qualify for FMLA leave or any payoff from her disability insurance.

Ramzi Benrahou was born at 26 weeks and just over 2 pounds. Knowing that 20 percent of babies born at his gestational age don’t survive, Leigh spent the first hours after the delivery singularly focused on her tiny son’s survival. He needed oxygen, since his lungs weren’t fully developed. And, when he was whisked away for medical attention, Benrahou had to attend to another crisis: She was the mother of a very sick baby, and her carefully constructed paid maternity leave had disintegrated. So, freshly stitched up and still groggy from anesthesia, she spread out her medical fact sheets, insurance policy papers and lists of phone numbers on her hospital bed and began to grapple with her new reality. Though her college was on winter break, which put off her return by about a week, Benrahou realized she’d have to go back to work when classes resumed on January 6, less than two weeks after giving birth.

Less than a month

Like Benrahou, most U.S. women end up returning to work sooner than they’d like—sometimes just weeks or days after having a baby. Just how soon they’re going back is difficult to determine. We know that most employers don’t offer paid leave, but no federal agency collects regular statistics on how much post-childbirth time off, paid or unpaid, women are actually taking.

Census data on employment patterns among first-time mothers show that between 2005 and 2007, more than half who worked during their pregnancy were back on the job within three months of giving birth. A 2008 study by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Maternal and Child Health Bureau, meanwhile, found that the average length of maternity leave, when taken, was 10 weeks. But more recent data is scarce, even though the recession left many women living on razorthin margins, ratcheting up the pressure to rush back to work after giving birth.

How are new mothers faring in today’s age of austerity? Data analyzed for In These Times by Abt Associates, a research and evaluation company, provides a window into these experiences. Abt went back to a 2012 survey it conducted for the Department of Labor of 2,852 employees who had taken family or medical leave in the last year, looking specifically at the 93 women who took time off work to care for a new baby.

Nearly 12 percent of those women took off only a week or less. Another 11 percent took between one and two weeks off. That means that about 23 percent—nearly 1 in 4—of the women interviewed were back at work within two weeks of having a child.

The educational divide between those who took shorter and relatively longer leaves is striking: 80 percent of college graduates took at least six weeks off to care for a new baby, but only 54 percent of women without college degrees did so.

Pumping in the parking lot

What’s it like to be back on the job in the first weeks after having a baby?

For Natasha Long, who was back three weeks after her third child, Jayden, was born in 2012, the worst part was missing out on bonding time with her son.

Long, who was 29 at the time, was determined to make sure Jayden got breast milk. But the factory where she worked, ACCO Office Supplies in Booneville, Mississippi, didn’t have a lactation room. So when she was on breaks, she had to run out to her truck. She sat in the cab, worried that someone might see her, and pumped, while tears rolled down her face and over the plastic suction cups attached to her breasts.

Long cried because she wanted to be holding her baby rather than sitting in the parking lot of a factory in her old Yukon Denali. But exhaustion clearly also played a role in her emotional state. Her job was simple—to place stickers with the company logo on the bottom right-hand corner of plastic binders and then box up the binders. But the shifts were long—from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.—and she put in four or five a week. Because the factory was an hour’s drive from her home in Okalona, Mississippi, Long had only 10 hours left in the day to do everything else, including tend to her three children, spend time with Jayden’s father, and sleep. By the time she got back in the evening, her children, who were being looked after by her father during the day, were on their way to bed. To pump breast milk before leaving for work, she had to get up at 4 a.m.

After just a few days of this crazed schedule, Long began to develop strange symptoms, including a headache that never seemed to go away and a choking sensation that left her feeling breathless. She started biting her fingernails to the quick—something she’d never done before—and crying a lot. “I felt like I was alone,” says Long. “I wanted to fall off the face of the earth.” Long had never been depressed. But when she went to the doctor, he surmised that her physical symptoms were rooted in her mental state, which was itself rooted in her schedule. When her doctor said he thought she was depressed, Long worried that if child welfare authorities found out, they might take her children away. She had seen other people’s children put in foster care. But when her doctor prescribed her antidepressants, she took them.

Long is not the only one to suffer emotionally from a quick return to work. Research has shown that longer maternity leaves, whether paid or unpaid, are associated with a decline in depressive symptoms, a reduction in the likelihood of severe depression, and an improvement in overall maternal health, according to a working paper issued by the National Bureau of Economic Research. One national study of 1,762 mothers found that a one-week increase in maternity leave was associated with a 5 to 6 percent reduction in depressive symptoms from six to 24 months after birth. Another found that women who took less than eight weeks of paid leave experienced more depression than those who had longer leaves and were in worse health overall. Mothers who work more than 40 hours a week, as Long was, were more likely to be depressed than those who worked 40 hours or less, according to a study by Child Trends, a research center.

Women who go back sooner also tend to breastfeed less, which cuts into the benefits breast milk confers, including better immunity and lower rates of childhood obesity, allergies and sudden infant death syndrome. It was only through heroic efforts that Long was able to breastfeed Jayden until he was 1.

Shorter maternity leaves may also have a negative effect on the development of early motor and social skills and even, later, on vocabulary, according to several studies. So far, Jayden, 3, hasn’t shown signs of missing any developmental milestones. What nags at Long is the thought that her absence in those first few months might have affected their relationship. He refuses to call her “mama,” and although there’s no research to indicate this would be a result of failed early bonding, she still fears that’s the reason.

Too busy to fight

For low-income women, the lack of paid maternity leave is just one of many missing supports to help them stay afloat while bringing new life into the world. By the time Jayden was born, pregnancy had already put Long in a perilous financial situation. She was on bed rest for the last four and a half months of her pregnancy. Big Dollar, where she worked at the time, didn’t fire her for not coming in—but it didn’t pay her, either. So Long filed for public assistance, which required her to attend classes. Though Mississippi is supposed to exempt people who are physically unable to take such classes, and Long’s doctor had warned her to stay off her feet, she says she was denied benefits when she didn’t attend.

Family members pitched in to pay for her groceries and rent while she was unable to work, but by the time Jayden was born (healthy, at 37 weeks), Long knew she had reached the limit of their generosity. When she went back to work at the dollar store, they offered her only reduced hours. It wasn’t enough to repay her debts, so she went to an employment agency, made no mention of her days-old baby, and got her job at ACCO.

Other social supports are glaringly absent for U.S. mothers, especially poor ones, who fill waiting lists for scarce subsidized childcare spots and underfunded early education classes. In comparison, Sweden and Denmark spend roughly 10 times what we do on childcare per person.

Without adequate options or support, low-income workers, who are more likely to live paycheck to paycheck and less likely to have access to any type of leave, often have little choice but to power through. As our data confirm—and as finances dictate—less educated women, who tend to have lower-paying jobs, are likely to take less time off after having children. Often, that means not just going back to work early, but going back to very long work hours, very early.

Raven Osborne, for instance, a 22-year-old single mother in Tupelo, Mississippi, went back to work just one week after her first child, Kylan, now 2, was born in August 2013. In addition to being a full-time college student, Osborne was waitressing full-time at IHOP, but her earnings—tips plus a base salary of $2.13 an hour—weren’t enough to cover her rent, car payments and daycare costs. Perhaps ironically, her tips were much higher—sometimes more than $100 a shift—when she was visibly pregnant. But once she had the child, they went down again, so Osborne added a few overnight shifts at Texaco when Kylan was four weeks old, leaving the baby with his grandmother. Working upwards of 60 hours each week, the new mother barely saw her son, except when she got home from work, when she often fell asleep holding him. She could have taken unpaid leave from IHOP but chose not to because she needed the pay.

This winter, Osborne returned to work four weeks after her second child, Anthony, was born. Now she’s working full-time at a debt collection agency on top of several shifts at the nearby Coles supermarket.

“I don’t like asking for help” is how Osborne explains the frantic pace she’s kept up during her first year-and-a-half of motherhood. Her mother pitches in by watching the kids when she can, though she, too, has two full-time jobs—one at Walmart and another as an aide at a retirement community.

Clearly, women with low earnings are the least likely to have a financial cushion that allows them to forgo a paycheck. But it’s not only those on the bottom of the pay scale who can’t afford to take unpaid leave. More than 2.5 million employees need time off from work to care for themselves or another but can’t afford to take it, according to a 2012 study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Tracy Malloy-Curtis, a fundraiser at a nonprofit in New York City, could have taken more time off, unpaid but with job security, after she had a baby a few years back. (“It’s a civil rights organization,” she explains, though she doesn’t want to name it because she still works in the field.) Instead, Malloy-Curtis, who is 43, married, and the primary breadwinner in her family, went back five and a half weeks after having a son—and a complicated C-section—for fear she otherwise could not afford to pay her mortgage and cover the other basic costs of her life.

“Physically, I was a wreck,” she says. An infection around her C-section wound hadn’t yet healed when she went back to work. “I was still bleeding, my incision wasn’t closed.” Pus dripped down her leg under her work clothes.

Those who do take leave may find themselves penalized afterward. Jackie Wheeler took six weeks of paid maternity leave after her son, Enzo, was born in 2011. Wheeler, who lives in Westminster, Colo., was working at the front desk of a local branch of Chase Bank. Though her son had severe medical problems as a result of being born early, Wheeler had intended to go back to her job. Before giving birth, she says, she had even been talking with her boss about interviewing for an assistant manager position. “I saw myself as moving along in the company,” she says.

But after she returned to work and Enzo was released from the hospital, she took another six weeks of leave. At that point, her boss told her he thought it was best that she resign—if he didn’t fill her position right away, he said, corporate headquarters would eliminate it. And Wheeler was too overwhelmed at the time to challenge him.

The birth of hope

While, in the United States, the lack of time off can too often turn new motherhood into a distressing ordeal, most other cultures treat this immediate post-natal period as a sacred time, when both the new mother and baby receive help and special attention. Throughout history and all over the world, people have tended to carve out a minimum of at least six weeks in which women are exempt from responsibilities other than child care, according to Malin Eberhard-Gran, a Norwegian public health scholar who has compiled a cross-cultural comparison of post-natal practices.

In some Muslim traditions, new mothers spend the first 40 days after birth in their mothers’ homes, for instance. Many Latin American cultures also bracket during the same period, known as la cuarantena (from the Spanish word for “forty”), and exempt women from work responsibilities. In some other countries, women are granted special treatment for even longer. Traditionally, women in Japan and India go to their mothers’ homes for several months after giving birth. And today, by law, the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)—democracies with market economies—provide an average of more than a year of paid leave.

Here in the United States, advocates have been fighting for a century to get new parents just a few weeks off with pay. But the tide may be turning. In 2002, California became the first state to pass a paid family leave law, which provides workers who need to care for a new baby with 55 percent of their usual weekly pay, to a limit of $1,104 for up to six weeks. New Jersey passed a similar law in 2008. And in 2013, Rhode Island granted workers up to four weeks off with pay for “family care,” including care of a new baby. Despite dire warnings from business interests, most employers in New Jersey and California (where programs have been in effect long enough to be studied) haven’t found that paid leave has hurt productivity, profitability or turnover. (Full disclosure: I was a co-author of the New Jersey study).

The Obama administration is attempting to build momentum for paid sick leave, one of the main ways women piece together paid maternity leave. In the 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to send him a bill guaranteeing U.S. workers seven days of paid sick leave—but in early August, Senate Republicans blocked a Democrat-sponsored bill to do so. In the meantime, Obama has an executive order in the works that will extend a week of paid sick leave to all federal contractors, and his adminstration has issued $1.25 million in grants to study how paid leave programs can be developed in states. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who has been outspoken on the issue, has spearheaded a #leadonleave campaign, in which he and White House aide Valerie Jarrett travel the country to boost local paid leave policies.

But, so far, even a Democratic administration committed to the issue hasn’t been enough to overcome resistance to it. When bills have been debated in states, Republicans have been so vehement that paid leave is bad for business and a “job killer” that legislation at a federal level has been assumed to be a no-go. And, at least until very recently, congressional Republicans have mostly scoffed at Democratic efforts. But for the first time, a bill proposed by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) this spring that would provide benefits for workers who take time off to care for a new baby or sick family member was met with a counterproposal from Republicans, which would allow hourly workers to put overtime toward paid leave.

The issue is also clearly gaining ground in certain states, where at least ten family leave proposals have been introduced since March. Though Republican presidential candidates have had little to say about the issue, Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both come out as strong proponents of paid leave. While Sanders has been more specific about his plan, calling for 12 weeks off, with pay, both are making a moral case to which there is no politically sound retort: Families need paid time off to take care of their new babies. Men, women and children will gain from this basic human dignity.

Barreling ahead

After three months, Leigh Benrahou only has a blurry recollection of her first weeks back at work just days after her premature son was born. “I remember walking really slow and wearing stretch pants and just making it happen,” she says hazily. She spent those early days cutting a path between the college; the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where Ramzi spent four months and underwent two stomach surgeries; her 3-year-old daughter’s daycare center; and her home, where, despite her exhaustion, she found it difficult to sleep.

At work, Benrahou tended to the needs of her students, whose questions about enrollment requirements and course changes occasionally provided distraction from her own, far graver problems. But mostly it was surreal—and painful—to be there. Climbing stairs was difficult because of her recent surgery. And pretty much every time she closed the door to pump breast milk, she wound up crying. Harder still was being away from her tiny baby, whose health was still so uncertain. Every time she got a call from the hospital when she was at work—and there were many—her stomach clutched.

“They say it’s like being on a roller coaster, [having a child] in the NICU,” says Benrahou. “But a roller coaster is fun. I wanted to throw up all the time.”

Benrahou didn’t throw up, though. Instead, like so many other American women, she barreled ahead, doing her best to both take care of her newborn and remain employed. Though she never got to take leave when and how she had planned, she was recently able to take 12 weeks off through the FMLA under the category of caring for a sick relative—in this case, her infant son. And now the woman who so painstakingly planned her family’s future doesn’t know what’s ahead. Ramzi’s long-term prognosis is unclear; he’s still on oxygen and has a feeding tube. About a quarter of babies born at 26 weeks go on to have lasting disabilities.

Benrahou’s hope is to keep working. And mostly she remains upbeat. But sometimes she can’t help but wonder whether Ramzi’s early birth was preventable; and whether continuing to work after her diagnosis so she could make the best of her miniscule amount of time off brought about Ramzi’s early delivery. It certainly wasn’t the way she planned it.

This article was supported by the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting.

This blog originally appeared on InTheseTimes.com on August 18, 2015. Reprinted with permission

Sharon Lerner is an award-winning investigative journalist living in Brooklyn. She is the author of “The War on Moms: On Life in a Family-Unfriendly Nation” and covers health, the environment and other issues affecting children and families.

Carly Fiorina Thinks Corporations Should Be Able To Deny Paid Leave To New Mothers

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

 

Bryce CovertAfter Jake Tapper, host of CNN’s State of the Union, asked Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina about Netflix’s announcement that it will offer a year of unlimited paid family leave, the former Hewlett Packard CEO said she opposes any requirement that employers offer their workers paid leave.

“I don’t think it’s the role of government to dictate to the private sector how to manage their businesses, especially when it’s pretty clear that the private sector, like Netflix…is doing the right thing because they know it helps them attract the right talent,” she said. “I’m not saying I oppose paid maternity leave. What I’m saying is I oppose the federal government mandating paid maternity leave to every company out there.”

But the vast majority of private sector employers don’t seem to agree that offering paid leave is the right thing to do. Only 12 percent of workers in the private sector get paid family leave from work. These benefits are also far more likely to be offered to higher-income, white collar workers and not to the low-income workers who may need it the most to be able to afford time off. Just 5 percent of the lowest-paid 25 percent of employees get paid family leave, compared to 21 percent of the highest 25 percent.

Fiorina noted that while she was at Hewlett Packard, the company offered paid maternity and paternity leave. Current online versions of its employee handbook only refer to “several leave opportunities to provide additional time when you need it, including [unpaid] Family and Medical (FMLA) Leave, state family leaves, [and] parental leave” without specifying how much leave employees might get. But in response to a New York Times inquiry in 2013, the company said new mothers get six weeks of full pay under a short-term disability plan with additional weeks at lower pay, while new fathers get just 10 days.

Netflix and other technology companies have made headlines for far more generous leave: Netflixannounced unlimited paid leave for the first year after the arrival of a child, while Google offersfive months and many others offer 17. But they are the exception to the norm. And without a requirement, leave policies will differ wildly from workplace to workplace.

The lack of a federal law requiring maternity and paternity leave makes the U.S. a lonely outlier on the world stage. It is one of just three countries among 185 that doesn’t guarantee new mothers paid time off, while another 70 include new fathers.

Three states have decided to enact their own policies: California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. And the evidence from those experiments goes against Fiorina’s claim that it would be “ineffective” and “hypocritical” for government to mandate leave when it “hasn’t gotten its basic house in order.” In California, the vast majority of businesses report that the paid leave law had either a positive impact or none at all on profitability, employee performance, and productivity and it helped reduce turnover. In New Jersey, the majority of businesses also say that it hasn’t hurt their finances, while some saw similar benefits.

Paid family leave is generally found to keep women in the labor force and to expand it. The savings in turnover can come to an estimated $89 million a year for the country’s employers. But the lack of paid leave is one of the reasons that the country’s rate of women in the labor force is being far outpaced by other developed countries.

Fiorina has also come out against issues related to women’s equality in the past. She opposes the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is aimed at closing the gender wage gap, and blames the gap on unions and government bureaucracies.

“This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on August 10, 2015. Reprinted with permission.”

Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

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