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White House Summit Focuses on Family-Friendly Workplace Policies

June 26, 2014

President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden, and Dr. Jill Biden headlined the White House Summit on Working Families on June 23 in Washington, DC, where nearly a thousand people from around the nation crowded into a hotel ballroom for a full-day conference on the need for — and benefits of — family-friendly workplace policies.

Kicking off the day, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said that the President was focused on wage fairness to make sure that a full day of work resulted in fair pay. “No one who works a full-time job should have to live in poverty,” he said.

Referencing the Department of Labor‘s revised rule to extend home care workers basic labor protections, Perez said that the President used a “regulatory tool in his arsenal” to help 2 million home care workers gain access to minimum wage and overtime pay guarantees.

“These people are doing God’s work and they deserve a fair wage,” Perez said.

Throughout the day, panelists — including other politicians and administration officials, as well as representatives from small businesses, large corporations, unions, the media, and advocacy and nonprofit organizations — all agreed on the need to raise the federal minimum wage and improve workforce policies. Such action would not only help families but would also improve businesses’ bottom lines, several speakers reported.

“Don’t blame yourself” if you are “working harder, sleeping less, and stretching every dollar,” Obama told the crowd over lunch. It is not due to “poor planning or poor diligence” but rather “outdated policies.”

“Twenty-first century families deserve twenty-first century workplaces,” Obama said. These policies are “not bonuses” but should be part of the “bottom line of society.”

“When women succeed, America succeeds,” Obama said. The slogan was echoed throughout the day, as conference speakers and participants agreed on the need for the following policies:

  • raising the federal minimum wage
  • health benefits
  • paid sick time
  • paid leave for maternity, eldercare, and childcare needs through employee and employer contributions
  • publicly supported child care, such as universal pre-K
  • job flexibility
  • mentors for women in the workplace

Interdependent Society

Direct-care workers were also highlighted at a breakout session on hourly wages, where Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Maureen Conway, executive director of the Economic Opportunities Program at the Aspen Institute, were among the panelists.

Poo said that domestic workers’ “fights for a living wage at the state level” were “critical” and that “effective solutions” for this workforce included paid sick days and paid family leave.

Direct-care workers are “folks we can depend on to work [ourselves]”; we live in an “interdependent society,” Poo said. (President of PHI Jodi Sturgeon made the same point in a Huffington Post commentary that appeared on the day of the summit.)

Conway highlighted PHI and Cooperative Home Care Associates, a PHI affiliate, for working to lift the wages of home care workers. CHCA, a worker-owned cooperative model, guarantees hours and benefits, trains and supports its workers, and treats them with dignity and respect, she said.

At another breakout session on caregiving, a home care worker from Georgia told the panelists that she worked hard and long hours but was still living in poverty. Caregiving needs to be respected, be rewarded, pay better wages, and offer opportunities to increase skill level, said Nancy Duff-Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center.

The White House Summit was the culmination of five regional forums on family-friendly workplace policies. It was sponsored by the Center for American Progress, the Department of Labor, and the White House Council on Women and Girls.

More information on working families and the summit, including a video of the event, is available online.

— by Deane Beebe

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