The momentum around paid leave is palpable and exciting. Whether it’s policymakers taking steps to increase access for workers and their families, candidates and public officials on both sides of the aisle calling for public policies, employers establishing or expanding their own policies, or researchers releasing new data showing the widespread benefits of paid leave, awareness of the need for action on this critical issue is at an all-time high. Today brought two new developments to celebrate.
First, U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez announced $1.55 million in grants for six states – California, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington – and two localities (Montgomery County, Md., and New York City) to study how to develop and implement paid family and medical leave programs. The grants further the administration’s commitment to advancing paid leave while helping pave the way for the national program the country needs. As Secretary Perez said in his announcement this morning, and as he’s said before, national paid leave is a “when” question, not an “if” question.
Then, a few hours later at the 11th Annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Meeting in New York City, several major companies announced that their U.S.-based divisions and subsidiaries have formed a unique coalition of businesses committed to improving access to paid leave and other workplace supports. So far, the Working Parent Support Coalition includes Barclays, Danone and several of its divisions, Ernst & Young, KKR and Nestlé, with support from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Cornell University and CGI.
This new effort is significant. As two spokespeople said during a kick-off event today, private sector policies can help pave the way for public policy changes. This is also the first time that so many major companies have come together to develop strategies for creating measureable change for their employees who are working parents. The effort also focuses on the importance of paid leave in promoting employees’ health and well-being, at a time when the United States is the only developed country that does not guarantee paid maternity leave, one of a handful that do not guarantee paid paternity leave, and one of only two that do not guarantee paid sick time.
Today’s developments are especially welcome additions to the cascade of recent advances, and I hope they inspire even more progress. The Labor Department grants will support research that will add to the growing body of evidence showing the benefits of paid leave and give local leaders a basis to establish their own policies. And the new business coalition is committed to recruiting more companies and sharing the results of individual policy changes – data that will help pave the way for more progress.
This is an exciting time in the effort to ensure workers in this country no longer have to choose between job and family. Despite increased attention, new state and local policies and high-profile private sector initiatives, tens of millions of people still do not have access to employer-provided paid family or medical leave, according to new data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics last week. That’s why every advance that helps to change policy and culture is so important. As the positive developments continue, I am convinced that we are on the verge of profound national change. It’s about time!