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

Jun 24, 2014

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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