Since 2003, Congress and the president have designated every October "National Work and Family Month" – a time to reaffirm that making the country's workplaces more fair and family friendly should be a national priority. As the month draws to a close, there are clear signs of progress since last October and reasons to celebrate. But there are also frustrating reminders that much more work lies ahead, and vigilance remains essential.
Unprecedented attention to the need for paid family and medical leave, paid sick days and fair pay has provided a boost. In June, the White House hosted a summit that brought together top lawmakers, business leaders, workers and advocates to discuss the need for stronger workplace policies. The president urged Congress to prioritize these issues, and his administration has awarded grants to three states and the District of Columbia to study paid leave, issued executive orders on fair pay, and more.
In Congress this summer, the first-ever Senate subcommittee hearing on paid leave sparked an important conversation. And even a painful Senate procedural vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act helped call attention to the damage done by the gender-based wage gap and the need to combat pay discrimination in our nation's workplaces.
There has also been tremendous momentum at the state and local levels. This year alone, seven cities passed paid sick days laws, two cities expanded their existing laws and California became the second state to establish such a standard. Massachusetts, two New Jersey cities and Oakland, California, could do the same next week through ballot initiatives. And several states passed laws guaranteeing that pregnant workers who need them can access reasonable workplace accommodations. As we highlighted in our Expecting Better report in June, states and cities are truly paving the way.
All of this recent activity is worthy of celebration. At the same time, it is deeply frustrating to be reminded that women and their families are still fighting unfair workplace practices that were outlawed decades ago. Take, for example, pregnancy discrimination.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was passed 36 years ago this week, yet pregnancy discrimination remains a problem. Stories of women like Peggy Young, a United Parcel Service driver forced to take unpaid leave when she was pregnant and denied the "light duty" her medical provider advised, are all too common. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear Young's case in December, and the outcome will determine whether pregnant workers, under the PDA, must be treated the same as other workers who need reasonable workplace accommodations. It is one of the most important cases for women and families this term.
We also know that pay discrimination persists despite the fact that the Equal Pay Act has been law for more than 50 years. A recent National Partnership analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data shows that, in every single state, there is a gender-based wage gap that costs women thousands of dollars each year. It cannot be fully explained away by factors like occupation, education or perceived personal choices.
It makes no sense that, at a time when we are poised to make great strides toward the fair and family friendly workplaces we have long needed, we are still dealing with the effects of blatant discrimination. In 2014, no woman should have to choose between her job and the health of her pregnancy, and no one should lose critical income due to pay discrimination.
This National Work and Family Month and in all the months that follow, let's move beyond fights settled long ago and get closer to the day when women and all workers have the protection and support they need to manage work and family. Recent progress is very encouraging, but lawmakers and employers can and should be doing more to make much-needed policy and cultural changes top priorities – and realities.Back