In Focus: Sick Days and Family Medical Leave

Aug 3, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

For Worker and Family Health, Defend ACA and Fight for Paid Leave

By Liz Ben-Ishai

On the Family and Medical Leave Act’s (FMLA) 24th anniversary, we commemorate progress while recognizing workers and their families need for far more support. This includes access to health insurance as well as the paid leave that enables them to use it.

The FMLA is the federal law that guarantees some workers (about 60 percent) access to job-protected, unpaid leave to recover from illness, care for sick family, or bond with new children. These protections are important, but because leave is unpaid, many workers aren’t able to take it. Moreover, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid are currently under threat from the Administration and Congress, compounding workers’ lack of paid leave with potential loss of their health coverage. 

When FMLA passed, advocates pushed Congress to quickly add wage replacement. Unfortunately, despite overwhelming public support for paid family and medical leave, Congress has been unable to pass paid leave legislation for almost 25 years. This failure to act has serious consequences for the nation’s health and wellbeing.

An updated CLASP brief, “Paid Leave Necessary for an Ounce of Prevention,” explains the importance of paid leave to preventive health care. Without pay, workers are forced to make decisions that undermine their health both now and long term. For example, nearly half of FMLA-eligible workers who needed leave but didn’t take it cited lack of affordability. Consequently, they delayed or forewent needed medical care.

Under the ACA, 20 million previously-uninsured people have gained health insurance. For many of them, access to care was previously out of reach. It is critical that we defend the ACA to protect access to doctors, treatment for illness, and preventive care that saves lives and dollars. At the same time, we also need to look ahead. Access to health care can be futile when workers lack the paid leave they need in order to use it without risking their economic security. Even in today’s climate, with the safety net in jeopardy, we must remain committed to forward motion on paid leave.

Notably, there is momentum at the state level. Last month, Washington joined California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, and Washington, D.C. in establishing a paid family and medical leave insurance program. Washington’s program offers generous benefits, including up to 18 weeks of leave for workers to care for themselves and their loved ones at times of serious illness or when a new child joins the family. As noted in CLASP’s brief, access to paid leave promotes adult caregivers’ mental health, increases breastfeeding rates, and boosts preventive care for infants and children. Washington families will reap these benefits as the program is implemented in the coming years.

The health of U.S. workers and their families is critical to our communities and economy. We can’t play politics with health insurance or reject workers’ need for paid family and medical leave. Fortunately, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act has been introduced in Congress. This equitable, inclusive, comprehensive bill is modelled on successful state programs and would benefit workers, businesses, public health, and the economy. On the anniversary of FMLA’s implementation, the need for action could not be clearer.

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Jun 29, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

With bipartisan support, Oregon becomes first state to pass comprehensive fair scheduling law

By Liz Ben-Ishai

Increasingly, workers across the country are demanding fair work schedules. Today, their movement took a major step forward as Oregon’s legislature approved Senate Bill 828, making Oregon the first state to pass legislation to establish fair scheduling standards for thousands of retail, hospitality, and food service workers employed by large chains. The governor has indicated that she will sign the bill into law. This important bipartisan victory will also help fuel the momentum behind fair scheduling campaigns around the country.

Oregon’s legislation will ensure that retail, hospitality, and food service chain workers receive one week advance notice of their schedules (increasing to two weeks by 2020), compensation for last-minute schedule changes and for on-call workers who are not called into work, and a right to have input into their schedules. Workers will also have the right to rest between shifts and to receive a good faith estimate of their weekly work hours upon hire.

The new law will go a long way toward addressing significant challenges facing Oregon workers. A survey of 750 Oregonian workers conducted in 2016 found that 72 percent of workers receive less than two-weeks’ notice of their schedules; 73 percent experience changes to their schedules after posting; and 44 percent have worked back-to-back shifts, including closing shifts followed by opening shifts (referred to as “clopening”). Nearly one quarter had worked on-call.

Unfortunately, these conditions are not unique to Oregon—workers around the country struggle with unpredictable and unstable work schedules that wreak havoc on their families, finances, and lives. However, today’s victory bodes well for continued momentum at the state and local levels, and ultimately, the passage of a federal fair scheduling law. Oregon joins major cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City in taking this important step. CLASP commends the Oregon advocates and workers whose persistence and dedication led to this important outcome.

Bipartisan support for this bill suggests that regardless of their party affiliation, policymakers are recognizing the injustices of volatile work scheduling—and the struggles of low-income people more broadly. As politicians in Washington, D.C. threaten to drastically undermine the nation’s social safety net through draconian budget proposals and drastic changes to programs that would compromise the economic security and health of millions of American families, they would do well to look to the bipartisanship on display in Oregon as a model.

Jun 22, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

San Francisco Leads on Fair Scheduling, But Better Enforcement Needed

When San Francisco passed the Formula Retail Employee Rights Ordinances (FRERO) in November 2014, it broke new ground for workers’ rights. FRERO was the first public policy to attack unfair scheduling practices and has bolstered support for similar policies around the nation.

Scheduling on the Cutting Edge, a new report from CLASP and Young Workers United, highlights FRERO’s great promise as well as the work still needed to effectively implement it.

The report, based on a survey of 241 workers covered under the law, finds that FRERO provides critical protections to workers but needs to be better enforced.  Low public awareness, lack of business compliance, and limited outreach and enforcement resources are reducing the law’s impact.

The first law of its kind, FRERO requires retail employers to provide workers at least 7 days’ notice of their schedules. It also requires them to compensate workers when shifts are changed or cancelled with insufficient notice (known as “predictability pay”) or when they are “on call” but ultimately not needed. Additionally, FRERO requires employers to offer available hours to current workers before hiring new staff.

FRERO has the potential to be a game-changer for many lower-income workers, helping them to plan their lives, arrange child care, pursue education, and manage finances. Indeed, surveyed workers said predictable schedules brought stability to their lives. However, more than a year into implementation, just 18 percent of workers were familiar with the law. Moreover, many workers said their employers weren’t complying with every rule. Among workers who experienced shifts changes—including cancelled or added shifts—with less than a week’s notice, just 30 percent received predictability pay. Furthermore, despite the fact that many workers expressed a desire for more hours of work, a majority said they weren’t offered additional hours before employers hired new staff.

Advocates and community-based organizations in San Francisco, including YWU, have been working diligently to spread the word about FRERO, despite limited resources. YWU is part of a collective of community-based organizations that partner with San Francisco’s enforcement agency to raise awareness about FRERO and other worker protections. These efforts have empowered workers to challenge unfair labor practices, including by filing claims with the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE), the agency enforcing the law. Yet as the report notes, more resources are needed as the collective undertakes outreach on a growing number of laws, including FRERO.

In addition to highlighting the need for resources to support community-agency partnerships, the report calls for increased, dedicated staffing for FRERO enforcement at OLSE and recommends that OLSE approach enforcement strategically. It should focus its efforts on high-violation areas and be proactive about identifying violations, as opposed to waiting for complaints.

A growing number of cities and states are considering—and passing—fair scheduling laws, which could help protect millions of workers from volatile scheduling practices that wreak havoc on families and create economic instability. The study released today points to the need to ensure adequate resources and staffing for enforcement of these laws in order to maximize their impact. 

Read the report.

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