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White House launches new initiatives to help support working families

The White House said that at its Summit on Working Families, Monday, June 23, President Obama would reveal several more steps he is taking to create more opportunities for working families to get ahead. The DOL and the Center for American Progress (CAP) partnered with the White House to set an agenda for a 21st century workplace. The White House also released a series of reports by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

The president has already raised the minimum wage for federal contractors, expanded retirement opportunities, strengthened overtime protections, and signed an Executive Order that protects workers from being retaliated against by their boss if they discuss their wages. The president will build on this progress, according to a White House Fact Sheet, by signing a Presidential Memorandum to help families better balance work and spend time at home. He is also announcing a “package of both public and private sector efforts that will take a strong stand to protect pregnant working women, increase investments for research to understand the economic benefits of paid leave, expand apprenticeships for women, target resources to help more women enter higher-paying STEM and other fields, and make child care more affordable for working families.”

The June 23 Summit explores how, as the demographics of the U.S. workforce change, workplaces can change to support working families, boost businesses’ bottom lines, and ensure America’s global economic competitiveness in the coming decades. Businesses, economists, labor leaders, legislators, advocates, and the media are convening for a discussion on issues facing the entire spectrum of working families — from low-wage workers to corporate executives, from young parents to baby boomers caring for their aging parents.

Reports. In addition, the White House Council of Economic Advisers has released three reports:

Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility;

The Economics of Paid and Unpaid Leave; and

Nine Facts about American Families and Work.

Workplace flexibility. The president is issuing a Presidential Memorandum, according to the fact sheet, directing federal agencies to implement existing efforts to expand flexible workplace policies to the maximum possible extent. Agencies will be directed to review their workplace flexibility and programs and report back any best practices and barriers to their use. The memorandum will also clarify that federal workers have the “right to request” a flexible work arrangement without fear of retaliation and will direct agencies to establish procedures for addressing these requests by employees. It will also call for training of employees and supervisors on the effective use of these tools and will direct the Office of Personnel Management to create a new Workplace Flexibility Index that will be published online and updated annually to measure agencies’ success.

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. Despite the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, too many women still face discrimination in the workplace and a serious and unmet need for reasonable accommodations that would allow them to keep working while they are pregnant, the fact sheet states. For that reason, the president intends to urge Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require employers to make reasonable accommodations to workers who have limitations from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions (unless it would impose an undue hardship on the employer). The proposed law also would prohibit employers from forcing pregnant employees to take paid or unpaid leave if a reasonable accommodation would allow them to work.

Empowering pregnant workers. The president will also direct the DOL to release a new online map that will be a one-stop shop where working families can learn about the rights of pregnant workers in each state. The map will also permit families to see which states are leading the charge in protecting their rights and which are lagging behind. This live map will continue to reflect any future changes in state and federal policy.

Equal protections for all families. Last year, in United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. Seeing the decision as a victory for same-sex married couples, the president instructed the Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure the decision, including its implications for federal benefits and programs, was implemented swiftly and smoothly. The DOJ has concluded that review. In almost all instances, the government is able to extend benefits to same-sex married couples regardless of where they live. The DOL has announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to amend the definition of a “spouse” under the FMLA so that eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages will be able to take FMLA leave to care for their spouse or family member, regardless of where they live. This change, according to the fact sheet, will ensure that the FMLA is applied to all families equally, giving spouses in same-sex marriages the same ability as other spouses to fully exercise their rights and responsibilities to their families.

State paid leave programs. The DOL is targeting funds for Paid Leave Analysis Grants to fund up to five states to conduct research and feasibility studies that could support the development or implementation of state paid leave programs, according to the fact sheet. A preliminary announcement regarding the grants will go out this week to all state governors.

DOL is also funding two new independent research studies that will examine how paid leave programs impact employers and workers. One study already underway focuses on state paid parental leave laws in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. The first paper from this study, released in conjunction with the Summit, analyzes the positive impact of the California law ten years after implementation. The second study, which begins next month, will assess the current use of leave by workers and the likely effects of alternative worker leave policies.

Other initiatives. The fact sheet laid out several other initiatives designed to support working families, including:

  • Promoting access to child care for workers in job training programs.
  • Expanding access to high-quality child care.
  • Supporting high-quality early education for all children.
  • Closing the gender pay gap and expanding women’s access to STEM and other non-traditional occupations.
  • Federal science agencies leading efforts to increase women in STEM research careers.
  • Expanding access to higher-paying jobs in construction fields for women.
  • Launching a new public-private partnership to recruit and train women for STEM fields and apprenticeships.
  • Enforcing federal employment nondiscrimination laws to ensure men and women have equal access to job opportunities.

Private sector partnership. The Obama Administration said that it is joined in these efforts by private sector and non-profit partners. The National Center for Women & Information Technology intends to announce a new commitment to add thousands of new technical women to the U.S. talent pool by 2016 through their Pacesetters program, and it is expanding access to the “Transforming Technical Job Ads” initiative, an effort to produce job ads with more inclusive language to encourage more female applicants, to over 150 corporate and small business and more than 300 college and university partners in the coming months.

The Society of Women Engineers will be releasing new online training tools for parents, educators, and mentors to inspire and encourage more young girls to pursue engineering careers. With funding from the S. D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, the online resource will give parents information and tools to understand how engineering can improve girls’ academic achievement and career prospects, and give teachers and mentors activities to use with students to engage and build their interests in STEM fields. This new training builds on a series of publicly available tools to encourage women and girls to pursue and succeed in engineering careers.

Tax relief. Among the other steps discussed in the fact sheet is the president’s budget proposal to make permanent the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

Employers’ working group. In the private sector, a group of companies and businesses, including Bright Horizons Family Solutions, Care.com, Ernst & Young, Johnson and Johnson, and KPMG will launch a working group that that will bring together companies across diverse industries to explore ways they can address the needs of working families in today’s changing economy. In consultation with the Administration, the group will identify ways that employers can measure their own progress and help ensure they have effective practices in place to respond to workers’ work-life needs, retain the best talent, and are well-positioned for success in the 21st century global economy.

Union support. On the labor scene, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education, more than 40 unions and labor-management organizations have pledged to expand low-skilled workers’ access to their training programs and share best practices on effective workforce and career pathway programs. These organizations are well-positioned to expand opportunities for women to improve their foundation skills to access higher-wage occupations in the fields of healthcare, construction, transportation, and manufacturing, according to the fact sheet. “This collaboration represents partnerships with almost 8,000 employers and will provide unprecedented access to educational and training opportunities as well as supportive services necessary for women and working families to be successful.”