Strengthening Women’s Economic Security
By Marilyn Watkins, Policy Director at the Economic Opportunity Institute and a PSARA member
My mother died this summer. She lived for eight years with breast cancer, continuing the activities she enjoyed almost to the end. Then she declined rapidly, dying at home with the support of hospice, surrounded by family.
My sister and I were able to take three weeks off work, first caring for mom, then helping our father who had shared life with her for 62 years. Our other three siblings had less generous workplace policies and could only fly in for a few days.
Caring for family in those sacred times at the beginning and end of life shouldn’t be a privilege of the lucky. It should be a right, regardless of where you work or how much you make.
That’s why the FaMLI Act is central to the Washington Work and Family Coalition’s agenda. It will allow all workers to take up to 12 weeks off to care for a new child or ill family member, or for their own serious health condition. And it will provide income through a small payroll premium of 0.2% – just 3% of what employees and employers pay into Social Security.
Washington’s FaMLI Act is modeled after successful programs in California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Hawaii. In these states, new parents take longer leaves, especially lower income parents of color. Babies are healthier. New mothers are more likely to be working a year after childbirth and less likely to use public assistance. And of course when adult children can provide care, seniors aren’t forced into expensive nursing homes and hospitals.
Paid Sick Days and Paycheck Fairness are the other two pillars of the Work and Family Coalition agenda.
Everyone gets sick, but only 4 in 10 workers get paid sick leave – except in the rapidly growing number of jurisdictions that have passed sick leave laws. No one should be forced to work with a contagious illness or leave a sick child at home alone. People should be able to take their parent to the doctor and get preventative care, without losing the week’s grocery money or risking their job.
PSARA was a key member of the coalition that passed a sick leave ordinance in Seattle in 2011. Earlier this year, the Washington State House passed a similar statewide bill, but the caucus controlling the Senate refused to act.
A University of Washington evaluation of Seattle’s law found that access to paid leave increased significantly after passage, especially in restaurants, while the city outperformed nearby communities in job and business growth. Thirteen cities and two states have already adopted sick leave standards.
Families and our economy will also be healthier when women get equal pay. Washington state made pay discrimination illegal in 1943, yet the average woman in Washington brings home $24,000 less each year than the average man. That’s a big hit to family budgets. Lower wages also result in lower Social Security benefits and less retirement savings. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 22% of women over age 75 living alone are in poverty compared to 4% of married women.
The Paycheck Fairness bill will move us closer to gender equality by assuring workers won’t get fired or retaliated against for discussing compensation. The bill will also require employers to justify differences in pay and career tracks based on bona fide factors such as education or experience. Enforcement would be strengthened so workers have effective recourse and employers know the law is being fairly applied.
PSARA members can help pass the FaMLI Act, Paid Sick Days, and Paycheck Fairness in 2015:
- Tell Legislators and candidates for the Washington Legislature that you expect action on these policies and ask for their support.
- Check out the Work & Family Coalition website at waworkandfamily.org. Sign up for email alerts and like us on Facebook.
- Attend the Women’s Economic Security Forum at the Bellingham YWCA October 16, 5:30-7:00 pm.