A couple of months ago, when the DC Metro Moms, Silicon Valley Moms and Chicago Moms got a chance to meet with Elizabeth Edwards, in person and virtually for those of us in different time zones, I got to be the lucky DC representative to ask Elizabeth a few questions.
(I’m not getting overly familiar — she told me I wasn’t allowed to call her Mrs. Edwards!).
My first question was about what, if anything, her husband would do to make changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act – the federal law that requires employers of a certain size to guarantee that a parent can have up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave when a child is born or adopted, because of a serious medical condition, or to care for a family member, and still have their job to return to.
FMLA was a good first step to protect people’s jobs, but when most other countries offer paid leave or longer amounts of time off, doesn’t it seem like we ought to have some of those same things in America?
Elizabeth’s answer that day was an honest one — she said she didn’t know what his position was on that, but acknowledged the need for employers to be sensitive to the needs of families especially in our culture where two working parents are pretty much the norm and not the exception.
Today, the Edwards campaign is announcing his plan to address these, and other problems that are common for American families, and he’s bound to get kudos from many and critiques from others.
Called the “Promise to American Women,” Elizabeth is hitting the campaign trail in Iowa to talk about her husband’s very detailed plan that calls for:
1. Universal paid family leave,
2. Expanding the job protection aspect of the FMLA,
3. Universal preschool for four-year-old children,
4. Guaranteed paid sick days,
5. Affordable, high-quality child care, and
6. Cracking down on employer misqualification of workers by making sure that employees who should be getting benefits are not being wrongly classified as independent contractors.
It’s bold in its comprehensiveness and I’m sure the attacks will be starting … right … about … now on how we’re going to pay for it.
And that’s a fair question.
But why not start with a plan that would really benefit this country.
This agenda isn’t just about women. It’s not just about families. It’s about what kind of country we’re going to be.
It’s no secret that care-giving responsibilities in America fall disproportionately on women and that we live in a nation where, increasingly, women are forced to choose between their responsibilities as parents and their obligations as employees because so many employers aren’t willing to be flexible. So why not find a way to do something about that?
Plenty say that this is a free-market issue and that the government shouldn’t be telling employers how to run their businesses or make them provide benefits they claim they can’t afford.
Well, as far as I can tell, we really haven’t done a good job on that front and I don’t see employers being moved to make those changes anytime soon, because it’s only about the short-term bottom line. But the long-term bottom line would be significantly enhanced by a little something called loyalty if workers felt like their employers would save their jobs, pay them for a few, measly sick days or when caring for a sick family member.
When our working world becomes more of a two-way street, employers will have experienced employees who come back to the job. Think of the money that can be saved when long-time workers don’t jump ship when trying to juggle their career and the realities of family life today. Hiring and training costs will go down AND employers get the experienced workers back who don’t need the hand-holding a new worker might.
I’m ready for a promise that the next president will do his or her best to implement as many things as possible in Edwards’ Promise to American Women because I believe it can only make our country stronger, both for families and for the economy.
At the very least, all the candidates who want to move to Pennsylvania Avenue in 2009 ought to be having this discussion — with details.