A Gala to Remember

Debra L. Ness

The National Partnership held its annual gala yesterday, and the speakers, the crowd, the program and the event were extraordinary. I am so grateful to everyone who supported us in person, via social media, and in other ways!

Certainly, the highlights were hearing from our two incredible honorees – U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and Care.com CEO Sheila Lirio Marcelo – as well as seeing so many friends from the women’s, congressional, legal, health, labor, civil rights and other communities.

Secretary Perez referred to the National Partnership as a “powerhouse organization” and credited us with causing “good trouble” by fighting for change for decades. He talked powerfully about the progress the country is making toward a stronger economy, greater equality and more economic security for workers and families – and the work still to do: “Our journey is the ongoing struggle to build a more perfect union. Our progress is indeed unmistakable… but the work remains – that is also unmistakable. I am reminded, day in and day out, of the unfinished business of America.”

He noted that “too many women today face agonizing choices because our policies have not kept up with reality ... When you’re working three jobs, it’s hard to get to the PTA meeting. And we all know, because you have fought so long for this, that there are women who get paid cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts ... For a nation that values both hard work and family… we’re not doing a very good job of supporting families who work hard.”

Secretary Perez concluded his rousing, inspirational remarks by noting that he is convinced that putting a national paid leave program in place in this country is a question of when, not if. “The arc of the moral universe does bend toward justice,” he assured the crowd. “It does bend toward expanded opportunity. But it doesn't bend on its own. Let’s go cause good trouble together.”

A Powerful Endorsement

Care.com’s Sheila Lirio Marcelo also gave a powerful speech that brought the crowd to its feet. She called caregiving “an economic imperative” and warned that, “if we do not invest in a care infrastructure, we’re going to run into serious problems and we’re not going to be able to address gender parity in the workplace.”

Care is not just a women’s issue, she told the crowd, noting that $280 billion is spent on child and senior care in the United States each year. “It comes down to this,” she said. “You need to work to pay for high quality care and you need care to work.”

“This is why,” Lirio Marcelo continued, “we’re announcing today that we’re supporting passing legislation like the FAMILY [Family And Medical Insurance Leave] Act and the Healthy Families Act. We must.” She reiterated the company’s support in a LinkedIn post after the event.

We were also fortunate to have Ellen Malcolm on the program. She is, of course, chairwoman of our board of directors as well as the board of EMILY’s List, the organization she founded. Ellen announced that the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act had been reintroduced in Congress that morning – with bipartisan support!

And Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak brought a personal and humorous touch to her role as emcee of the event, sharing some of her own experiences as a working mother, and discussing what our agenda means to her and her family, and to so many others.

Changing Culture as Well as Policy

I was privileged to have the chance to share what it’s like to lead the National Partnership at this time when we’re making tremendous progress toward a more healthy, fair and family friendly America. More people have paid sick days and health insurance than ever before, which is encouraging.

But, I reminded the audience, whether you have basic benefits still depends on where you live and what job you hold. Collectively, we must resolve to keep working for change.

We deserve a culture that supports, not punishes, us when we are sick. A culture that is ready for the tsunami of elder care needs bearing down on us. Just hoping employers won’t be heartless – just hoping the health care system will work – is no way to cope with life’s challenges and life’s crises. Until we realize that, neither families nor businesses – nor the country – will truly thrive.

Yesterday’s event was a great reminder of the support we have as we continue working to make life better in this country for women and families. I thank every one of you for joining us in this work!

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