Vicki Shabo, Director of Work and Family Programs
Cross-posted from the National Partnership for Women & Families.
This month, more than 200 advocates from across the country were here in Washington, D.C., to discuss best practices and next steps in the effort to increase working families’ access to paid sick days and paid family and medical leave. We reflected on past victories; assessed current challenges and opportunities; brainstormed campaign strategies; heard from champions like Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Tom Harkin, Representative Rosa DeLauro and the nation’s top labor leaders; and took our stories straight to nearly 60 congressional offices. I know I’m not alone when I say it was an inspiring and productive event.
As National Partnership President Debra L. Ness said of the gathering in her opening remarks, “We are a room full of people for whom it is in our DNA to constantly test and reach beyond boundaries. The spirit, energy, wisdom and experience we share over the next couple days will, without question, help us reach a time when our country recognizes as a given that 21st century workplace policies must enable all workers to thrive as responsible workers and responsible family members.”
The 2012 National Summit on Paid Sick Days and Paid Family Leave, co-hosted by the National Partnership and Family Values @ Work, launched with an impressive discussion moderated by Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The panel, which included Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Mary Kay Henry, Lake Research President Celinda Lake and National Domestic Workers Alliance President Ai-Jen Poo, discussed the current policy and economic climate and the significant opportunities and challenges it provides. The panelists’ emphasis on the power of diverse and well-coordinated coalitions and the need to embed our issues in a broader social justice narrative was especially inspiring.
But that opening panel was just the beginning. From there, we talked about best practices and lessons from paid sick days campaigns with leading advocates in New York, Florida, Oregon and Massachusetts. We heard the heart-wrenching story of Carolyn Pinkston, a 9to5 member from Atlanta whose family struggled without access to the paid time off they needed to help her recover from brain surgery. Latifa Lyles, acting director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau, told us about the department’s efforts to improve workplace policies for working families. And we broke into 12 small groups to focus on specific aspects of our campaigns and develop new skills.
We closed out the day with another memorable and thought-provoking panel featuring Equality Maryland Executive Director Carrie Evans, Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson and Florida Immigrant Coalition Founding Director Maria Rodriguez. This panel’s emphasis on recent wins provided inspiration and highlighted best practices for moving progressive issues in the current climate.
That evening, many of us attended an event generously hosted by SEIU, the AFL-CIO and the Labor Project for Working Families. We heard moving stories from workers across the country and from great labor leaders and allies Mary Kay Henry, Gerry Hudson, Liz Shuler and Netsy Firestein. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D – Conn.) closed out the evening with rousing remarks about the need for paid sick days and paid leave and a strong call-to-action for Congress. It was the perfect way to end a full and energizing day.
The next day, we took our enthusiasm to the halls of Congress. The morning kicked off with a tribute to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D – Calif.) for her 25 years of service and commitment to improving the lives of women and families. Senator Tom Harkin (D – Iowa), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and sponsor of the Healthy Families Act, rallied the crowd with his words of support. And workers and business owners from Oregon to Illinois told their inspiring stories.
After that, 133 of us went straight to the Hill to talk to lawmakers and staff at nearly 60 congressional offices about the need for the Healthy Families Act and the state paid leave fund. Along with our partners from Working Mother magazine, MomsRising, Ultraviolet and Family Values @ Work, we delivered the signatures of more than 46,000 people who signed a petition in support of a national paid leave program to key members of Congress.
Overall, the event was a tremendous success. With the great energy, dedication and expertise of all of the advocates, policy experts, workers and business leaders who attended the Summit – along with the hundreds who couldn’t make it – more victories for working families are certainly on the horizon.
To get the latest news on paid sick days efforts throughout the country and new research and resources on the importance of this basic labor standard, visit PaidSickDays.org. For more information on paid family leave, check out our paid leave research library.
Check out photos from the petition deliveries and a “day in the life” of one group of activists.