Washington activists take fight for paid leave to White House Summit on Working Families
By Tatsuko Go Hollo
On June 23, 2014, the White House hosted the first-ever Summit on Working Families, a full-day event featuring workplace policies that build economic stability and prosperity for today’s families. Speakers, including President and First Lady Obama, Vice President and Dr. Biden, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Gloria Steinem, and Maria Shriver, highlighted paid sick leave, family and medical leave and paycheck fairness as key factors for economic success. These issues also make up the agenda for the Washington Work and Family Coalition, who led the fight for Paid Sick and Safe Leave in Seattle and of which PSARA is a member.
I had the fortune of attending the Summit, along with a dedicated Washington State contingent, including Marilyn Watkins, Policy Director at the Economic Opportunity Institute and Chair of Washington Work and Family Coalition, Sandy Restrepo and Amanda DeShazo from the Healthy Washington, a coalition fighting for paid sick and safe leave in Tacoma, Representative Laurie Jinkins, House sponsor of the statewide paid sick and safe leave bill, and Makini Howell, small business owner and restauranteur in Seattle and Tacoma.
Makini, owner and chef of Seattle’s Plum Bistro, was a featured speaker, discussing her experience in providing paid leave for her 42 employees. Since participating in the effort to pass Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Leave ordinance, Makini has offered paid leave to all her employees – and her business has grown in the process. She shared that the cost to implement paid leave has been “pennies on the plate” and more than paid for itself in reduced turnover and increased morale. Her businesses are a shining example of the economic success reaped by treating employees with dignity and enabling them to care for themselves and their families with good wages and benefits, including paid leave.
Research has shown time and again that paid leave policies lead to better health outcomes for workers and their families, help business to thrive and boost the economy. While cities and states have begun to recognize the urgent need for these policies, far too many workers continue to make the impossible choice between paying the bills and caring for their family. This is especially true for workers of color, who are less likely to have access to paid leave and more likely to experience pay inequity.
The Obama administration acknowledged legislation is needed to ensure all workers have access to paid leave. The President urged mayors and governors to be leaders in passing these policies in their own jurisdictions, noting the stagnancy in Congress.
Here in Washington we cannot accept that one million workers in our state do not have access to a single day of paid sick leave and that many more are unable to take paid parental leave or leave to care for an aging or seriously ill loved one.
We know that progress must start in our own communities. With the advocacy of voters and residents across the state, Washington workers will no longer have to choose between putting food on the table and recovering from the flu. Now is the time to call on our own elected officials to make policies that enable upward mobility and economic security for working families their top priority.
Tatsuko Go Hollo is Senior Policy
Associate at the Economic Opportunity Institute and a member of PSARA.
Marilyn Watkins is also a PSARA member.