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Making It Work: Activists call for 21st century work-family policies

May 10, 2010

The breadth of our movement was on display in Washington, DC April 26-27 as Family Values @ Work and the National Partnership for Women & Families co-sponsored “Making It Work,” a conference and day of action on paid sick days and paid family leave. More than 200 activists, researchers, funders, and policymakers gathered to strategize how to make these policies accessible to every worker in the United States.

The majority of participants – union members and business owners, immigrant rights activists and faith leaders, representatives from groups focused on low-wage women, children, seniors, economic development, domestic violence and public health – came from the 14 FVAW states. As one participant put it, “It feels like we’re everywhere!”

NPR's Maria Hinojosa with Family Values @ Work activists from Wisconsin.

NPR's Maria Hinojosa with Family Values @ Work activists from Wisconsin.

The summit began with a panel that laid out the economic and public policy context for paid sick days. Speakers included pollster Celinda Lake, Department of Labor economist William Spriggs, and Letty Mederos, Deputy Chief of Staff to Rep. Rosa DeLauro.

Spriggs reminded the audience of the need for a federal solution. “It’s good for states to set the pace,” he said, “but some folks live in states like Mississippi and Alabama.” His message was that workers are also consumers and that policies like paid sick days are job protectors. “Eating the little fish means eventually there will be no fish to eat,” he said.

A second panel addressed ways to continue to build the broad-based coalitions that can win change. Panelists brainstormed ways to reach small business owners, and suggested every coalition member ask their congregation to support the campaign.

After a working lunch in which different affinity groups met to strategize, summit attendees attended workshops on campaign mobilization, story-telling, media outreach, coalition-building, and power analysis.

Energized by these learning opportunities and by the chance to meet others from around the country, the attendees were then treated to a reception. NPR’s Maria Hinojosa served as the emcee, offering a special welcome to the guest of honor, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. Sec. Solis told of her parents’ struggle to provide their family with economic security, her dad’s involvement in the Teamsters union, and of her own passionate commitment to women’s rights and the enactment of federal policies that allow workers to be both good employees and good family members.

Rounding out the evening were comments from Kim Chester of Cartersville, GA, and Rob Everts, co-president of Equal Exchange in West Bridgewater, MA. Kim Chester was joined by her husband and three children as she described what it meant to the well-being of their daughter, who has cerebral palsy, that both her parents have paid sick days and flexibility to use them for family members. Rob Everts talked about his company’s policy, which includes up to 12 paid sick days for their 110 employees. “We have never regretted our policy,” he said, “and believe it contributes to our growth, profitability and high retention rate of employees.”

On the second day of the gathering, more than 150 activists attended a special media event on Capitol Hill. Terrell McSweeny, Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President and Deputy Assistant to the President, expressed the Obama Administration’s support for paid sick days and paid family leave. She was followed by Kevin Miller of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research presenting the findings of a new study that shows that paid sick days help contain health care costs, making these policies a critical companion to national health care reform.

Workers from Oregon, Washington, Georgia, Massachusetts and Washington shared personal experiences of the consequences when the policies we’re fighting for are lacking. We also heard from business owners from New Jersey and New York, who reiterated that doing the right thing is also the smart thing.

Senator Christopher Dodd spoke to the crowd about his ongoing work to build support for the Healthy Families Act and, as he prepares for retirement, to cultivate new champions on Capitol Hill for policies that value families at work. Sen. Dodd’s speech was followed by an impromptu visit from Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, sponsor of the Balancing Act, which would enact a wide range of family-supporting workplace policies. She recalled her experiences as a single working mom and called on the activists to share their personal stories with policymakers.

After the media event, the attendees, organized in state delegations, visited the offices of their U.S. senators and representatives to share the research, stories, and best practices that they learned about at the summit and from their own experiences.

Family Values @ Work activists from Georgia bring their stories to Capitol Hill.

Family Values @ Work activists from Georgia bring their stories to Capitol Hill.

Many thanks to the funders who made these two days possible – the Public Welfare Foundation who funded the Paid Sick Days Summit portion, Ford Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Moriah Fund and Rockefeller Family Fund.

“Making It Work” was widely covered by the national media, including in The Nation, In These Times, McClatchy news service (stories in numerous papers and blogs, including Miami Herald, Sacramento Bee, Denver Post, Charlotte Observer, Fort Worth Star Telegram, Anchorage Daily News, Idaho Statesman, Think Progress, Daily Kos, Yahoo Daily News, UPI , and Business Insider), National Public Radio, and many local TV and radio news programs.



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