In Focus

Jul 3, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

On July 4th, Remember our Roots and Provide Sick Days for Immigrant Workers

By Alex Wang

On July 4th, as our nation celebrates Independence Day, it’s important to remember the critical role immigrants have played and continue to play in our collective prosperity. Unfortunately, while immigrant workers make up a growing share of the U.S. labor force, many lack access to labor standards, such as paid sick days, that are critical to job security, public health, and the economy.

A new brief co-authored by CLASP and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research finds that immigrant workers have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. This difference is especially pronounced for Hispanic immigrants and lower-wage immigrant workers, particularly those who make less than $35,000 per year. The inability to take even one paid sick day forces workers to choose between their health (or the health of a loved one) and their daily earnings or—in some cases—their jobs.

 Key findings from our report include:

  • Immigrant workers have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. Only 54 percent of immigrants have access to sick days, compared to approximately 63 percent of their native-born counterparts.
  • Hispanic immigrants have the least access to sick days relative to all other racial/ethnic groups. On average, only 41 percent of Hispanic immigrants have access to sick days.
  • Asian immigrant women have much lower access to sick days than native born Asian women. Only 64 percent of non-Hispanic Asian immigrant women have access to sick days, versus 75% of native born women.
  • Lower-income immigrant workers who are working full time are less likely to have earned sick days than native-born counterparts at similar income levels. Immigrants with incomes of less than $65,000 per year have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. Around 26 percent of immigrant workers making less than $15,000 per year have access to sick days versus almost 36 percent of native-born workers.

Access to paid leave is a key aspect of job quality and compensation that is often overlooked. Given that no national law currently guarantees U.S. workers paid sick days, workers at all wage levels depend on their employers to offer leave voluntarily. While employers of higher-wage workers often do provide leave, low-wage workers are often unable to earn paid sick days, exacerbating income inequalities for those at the bottom.

Fortunately, at the state and local level, there is a growing movement to extend paid sick days access to all workers; to date, seven localities and one state have passed paid sick days law. Further, federal legislation that would extend this labor standard to all U.S. workers, the Healthy Families Act, has been introduced to Congress.

Immigrants who come to the U.S. to settle, raise American children, and contribute to our national economy should be guaranteed equal access to benefits. It’s time to act to bring paid sick days—which have widespread public support—to all U.S. workers, especially those who are severely disadvantaged.

Read the brief >>

Jun 25, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

White House Summit Lifts Up Important Policy Changes

By Liz Ben-Ishai

Engaged dads who struggle with work/family conflict at higher rates than moms. Executive moms who juggle family responsibilities as their careers soar. Millennials who won’t entertain the idea of inflexible workplaces. Businesses that are taking radical steps to level the playing field for diverse employees with varied responsibilities outside of the workplace.

Culture change – or perhaps cultures changing – was in full view at the White House Summit on Working Families, which took place in Washington D.C., on June 23rd. Speaker after speaker emphasized that times have changed and workplace policies need to change with them. Workers shared encouraging stories about the flexibility and fair wages they enjoy. And businesses that offer paid leave and are committed to pay equity underlined that at least some employers are stepping up to the plate to make needed changes.  

Yet, cultural change has not touched every worker’s life. In fact, millions of workers – particularly lower-wage workers, women, workers from communities of color, and immigrant workers – continue to struggle in jobs with schedules that are unpredictable and inflexible, that don’t pay enough to cover the bills, and that offer no paid family leave or even sick days. What these workers need is for cultural change to spur public policy changes – they need minimum standards and protections.

The Obama Administration made a number of announcements at Monday’s Summit highlighting initiatives that should both fuel continued cultural changes critical to improving workplaces and establish public policies and legal protections for the most vulnerable workers. These include:

  • Paid leave: President Obama announced that the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Women’s Bureau will offer $500,000 to states that want to study paid leave. Three states, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, have already instituted paid family leave insurance programs. The Administration also announced plans to study these existing programs.
  • Workplace flexibility: The President issued a memorandum calling on heads of federal agencies to improve workplace flexibility options for their employees and give federal workers the right to request flexibility. Laws requiring private employers to give workers the right to request flexibility have recently passed in San Francisco and Vermont.
  • Access to child care: DOL will provide $25 million in grants for technical skill training for workers who need child care so they can participate in training activities. Funding will increase access to more flexible training programs and use creative strategies to accommodate participants’ caregiving responsibilities and child care needs.
  • Calls for Congressional action: The President called on Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The Obama Administration is taking important steps towards creating family-friendly workplaces for all workers, a vision that was at the center of the inspiring event.

In addition to the state-based strategies for enacting paid family leave that were emphasized in the Executive Actions stemming from the Summit, many advocates, businesses, and workers are eager to see the passage of a national paid family and medical leave insurance program.

In his speech, President Obama acknowledged: “There is only one developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave, and that is us.  And that is not the list you want to be on by your lonesome.  It’s time to change that, because all Americans should be able to afford to care for their families.”  

Late in 2013, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Rosa DeLauro introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. If passed by Congress, this program would not only move the U.S. off the shameful list of maternity leave hold-outs mentioned by the President and numerous other Summit speakers, but it would also ensure that workers who are seriously ill or who have sick family members could take time to care for themselves and their loved ones without losing all of their wages.

Such a program makes sense, not just for workers, but also for the economy and for businesses. At the Summit, employers ranging from giants like Johnson & Johnson to smaller businesses like Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique and Zazie Restaurant made the business case for fair workplaces policies. Many businesses, including Sugar Bliss and Zazie, are both putting in place good policies in their own firms and stepping up to support public policies, like the FAMILY Act, that would help all Americans. The Council of Economic Advisers released reports, timed to coincide with the Summit, which lay out the economic realities of paid leave and workplace flexibility. And the reality is, these policies make sense for everyone. 

After an invigorating day that affirmed the necessity for change, highlighted the commitments of our leaders, and showcased the important cultural shifts already underway, the Summit closed with a clear directive to keep pushing forward – to keep trailblazing, as the First Lady described it. Advocates will continue to blaze a trail to the long overdue public policies that workers need most: laws that give them the economic security to ensure they can do their jobs well while also caring for their families.  

Jun 24, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

HuffPo Live Asks: What’s Fair for Working Families?

By Fatima Cervantes

Government officials, policy advocates, and everyday Americans talked fairness for working families during a HuffPost Live Q & A session that set the table for yesterday’s White House Summit on Working Families.

The inclusive conversation brought out rarely discussed features of the workplace. When asked about fair pay, Uncommon Goods Warehouse Supervisor Sha’Ron Burden explained that it helps “you feel more dedication to your teammates.” In Burden’s experience, an employee’s loyalty to a company is closely tied to the respect with which their employer treats them.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez discussed efforts to raise the minimum wage, protect home health care workers, and regulate overtime pay. Perez highlighted changes in the workforce, noting that while the number of working women and households with two working parents has increased, the U.S. has not responded with family-supporting policies. To address this concern,  he called for the passage of paid sick leave  and family medical leave laws, citing the success of state laws in Connecticut (sick leave) and California (family leave).

HuffPo Live host Alyona Minkovsk raised a common, if misguided, concern of paid leave opponents; they suggest paid-leave will cut into businesses’ bottom line and lead to higher prices for consumers. But despite the opposition from some businesses, campaigns for earned sick days and family leave are going strong. Secretary Perez highlighted numerous studies showing the benefits of paid leave.  “There are businesses that have voluntarily instituted paid-leave programs [and] have seen their stock prices actually go up,” he explained. “ And businesses who are the first in their area to do it see their stock prices rise even higher…” 

David Bolotsky, founder and CEO of UncommonGoods, provided insight on fair practices.  He said he has always paid employees higher rates than the minimum wage because it’s both the right thing to do and good for business. In fact, Bolotsky attributes his company’s consistent growth to his philosophy on fair pay. UncommonGoods is an on-record supporter of paid family leave law. And he’s not alone; many businesses are actively demonstrating their support.

Bolotsky added that when businesses fail to provide their employees living wages, it forces the government to intervene to protect workers. Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families, echoed the point: the government should not be subsidizing poverty-level jobs.

 Perez recognized these changes would require persistence, but he seemed ready for the challenge. “Americans need a raise and we’re going to keep fighting.”

The Q & A session served as a good foundation for The White House Summit on Working Families which continued to explore these efforts to support working families’ relief from poverty and the strengthening of the middle class.

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