Today, the White House doubled down on its support of working families.
First, the Department of Labor is finalizing a rule to require employees of businesses doing work on federal contracts to earn up to seven paid sick days a year. While the United States is the only industrialized country in the world where employees aren’t guaranteed the right to take a paid sick day off of work, President Barack Obama is seeking to change this during his last months in office.
"This rule ensures that workers will have the peace of mind to know they will still earn a paycheck if they have to miss a day because they are sick, or need to take care of a sick child or loved one. It will be good for working families, help business compete to attract and retain talent, and keep our nation healthier," wrote Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett in a new compelling essay.
Secondly, the administration announced that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is publishing its final and approved collection of summary pay data by gender, race, and ethnicity from businesses with 100 or more employees to improve enforcement of our nation’s equal pay laws.
Despite overwhelming support for equal pay, women still make less than their male peers. The President has fought to close that gap through legislation as well as by announcing a White House Equal Pay Pledge that has now been signed by more than 50 of America’s leading businesses, including Glassdoor.
President Obama spoke to Slate.com about the initiative and why all Americans should prioritize improved work policies like paid sick leave and equal pay. Here are the highlights!
SLATE: Why should most Americans care about paid sick leave?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Everybody gets sick. So when people don’t have paid sick days, they might have to choose between taking care of themselves and putting food on the table. For Americans living paycheck to paycheck, a lost day of wages can be a huge loss. Or when a child gets sick and has to stay home, parents may have no choice but to care for them and lose a day’s pay as a result. That’s simply not a tradeoff the wealthiest nation on Earth should be asking working parents to make.
Coming to work sick is bad for employees, co-workers, and customers alike. No one wants a colleague coming in and getting you sick. No one wants to be served by a waiter who’s under the weather. I’d much rather go to a restaurant knowing that if a chef or waiter is sick they have the choice to stay home without losing their paycheck.
That’s why it’s so important that this new rule becomes final today. It will give additional paid sick leave to more than 1.1 million federal contract workers in the first five years, including nearly 600,000 who currently receive no paid sick leave at all.
But just as importantly, this rule means that the federal government is putting our money where our mouth is. We know that providing at least seven paid sick days a year to our contracted workforce will give us the best value for taxpayer dollars and is good for workers and business alike. That’s the same decision that companies large and small throughout the country have made, and we hope our leading by example will convince others to do the same.
So we’ve been doing everything we can to increase Americans’ access to paid sick leave. We’ve called on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, a bill that would give Americans the ability to earn up to seven paid sick days a year. We’ve called on states and cities to pass similar legislation, and many have taken up that charge. And we’ve called on businesses to step up and adopt these policies, just as the government has.
SLATE: The United States is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t have some kind of national paid sick leave requirement. Short of the legislation you’ve called for to change that, is there anything else that either you or your successor as president can do to make sure more workers can take a sick day?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: As long as I’m president, I’m going to work every day to convince Congress, states, cities, and businesses to expand access to paid sick leave. We’ll continue to make the case for why sick leave is important to everyone, but we hope that the American people will as well.
While only Congress can mandate that every employer offer paid sick days, we have seen tremendous progress across the country as folks come together in their communities and make the case to their state legislatures to pass paid sick days laws. That local organizing has increased coverage to millions of Americans, and it’s building momentum that can ultimately lead to congressional action.
Since I first called on them to act, we’ve seen four states pass paid leave laws, over 25 localities take action on paid sick leave, and 22 localities take action on paid family leave. California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and this year Vermont have all passed bills, joining Connecticut, which did so in 2011. Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, and St. Paul have joined trailblazers like San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, and the District of Columbia in requiring paid sick leave for folks working in their cities. Businesses have been heeding the call, too, and some businesses now require their suppliers to provide paid sick leave as well.
Another way in which our workplace policies have not kept up with the times is that many Americans don’t have access to paid family leave. California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and now New York have created these programs to allow moms and dads to stay home with a new child or care for a seriously ill family member without losing their entire paycheck. Until Congress acts and guarantees every working American paid family leave, we’re going to see more states follow in their footsteps.
SLATE: Aside from sick leave, what else do you think the executive branch can do to improve working conditions for Americans without the help of Congress?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Over the last seven-and-a-half years, we’ve done everything we can to grow and strengthen the middle class. Our policies have promoted greater opportunity for employment, higher wages and incomes, fairer pay for women, workplace flexibility and paid leave for parents, affordable health insurance, more affordable college, and adequate retirement benefits. A recent report showed that last year, across every age, every race in America, incomes rose and the poverty rate declined. A typical household’s income increased by $2,800, the largest single-year increase on record, and the gender pay gap has fallen to the lowest level ever.
But we’re not resting on our laurels. In fact, today, we are announcing another key step to help reduce the gender pay gap. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has finalized a rule requiring every business with 100 or more employees to submit pay data broken down by gender, race, and ethnicity on an annual basis. Collecting and reporting this information will encourage employers to take voluntary action to address any existing pay gap, and it will help improve enforcement of our nation’s equal pay laws.
As for federal contractors, we encourage them to offer paid family leave if they want to attract and retain the best workforce. That’s why leading businesses have chosen to offer generous paid family leave benefits. I’ve done what I can through executive action to lead by example by directing federal agencies to advance up to six weeks of paid sick leave to employees who have a new child, and urge Congress to pass a bill giving them another six weeks of paid family leave on top of that.