By Hong Van Pham
If you ask my uncle – father of a five and a two-year-old – what he wishes he had more of, the answer would be time and sleep. My uncle works graveyard shifts; he is asleep when most of us are at work or school, and he leaves for work when many of us are heading home after a long day. Our family rarely hears him come home in the early hours of the morning, but Emily, his youngest child, habitually wakes up to listen for the familiar sound of her dad’s shoes.
This time of the year, I want to honor my uncle and the millions of dads who take on the hardest job of being a working parent. With 70 percent of mothers in the labor force, the roles and responsibilities of fathers have also shifted in today’s families. According to a report from the White House Summit on Working Families, one in five fathers are now primary caregivers to young children while the mother is working. The amount of time that fathers spend on child care and housework has more than doubled since 1965, and the majority of fathers in dual-income households report having work-family conflicts.
Unfortunately American policy has failed to keep pace with the shifting roles of fathers. More than ever, working parents need the tools and supports to balance the demands of work and caring for their family. Yet America lags behind many other countries in providing one of the most basic supports for families: the right to take paid family leave.
Paid family leave enables workers to take paid time off to bond with a new child or to care for an ill family member. When a father (or any individual) needs to take time off for those reasons in the United States, he must either take unpaid time off (through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act), or rely on employer-provided benefits such as paid vacation days and paid sick days.
Only three states (California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island) have implemented paid family leave, and the impact on workers and businesses has been overwhelmingly positive. In other words: business went on as usual (and even benefitted). Yet as it stands, just 11 percent of workers in America have access to paid family leave.
My uncle has been fortunate to access California’s Paid Family Leave program, which allows eligible individuals to receive about 55 percent of their weekly wages for up to 6 weeks. He took paid leave for two important events in his life: when his daughter was born and when his wife unexpectedly fell ill a few years later. In the few weeks that he took to bond with Emily, my uncle got to experience what most parents cherish – more time with his children, and more sleep. Accessing paid family leave helped my uncle to fulfill and balance his roles as a working parent, a father, and a partner.
Although there remains some serious work to do to support working parents in America, the trend of fathers taking leave in California is headed in a positive direction: the number of men who apply for paid family leave has more than doubled since 2004, and a greater number of men are taking leave to bond with their child. Paid leave also benefits more than the fathers who take it; it provides vital economic security to families and supports women in the workforce. But today, millions of fathers and their families nationwide are still waiting for a solution, and that needs to start with a basic right to take paid leave.
SB 406 (Jackson) Job Protection for Paid Family Leave
The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) guarantees workers the critical right to take time off from work to bond with a new child or care for a family member with a serious health condition. Unfortunately, CFRA is not available to all California workers. CFRA excludes the 40% of Californians who work for a company that employs fewer than 50 employees. Also, the CFRA definition of family members that a worker may care for is overly narrow. SB 406 would lower the employer threshold so more workers would be covered under CFRA and align its definition with that of Paid Family Leave. This change would allow workers to care for siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and parents-in-law. SB 406 would help more California workers take needed time off to care for their families.
SB 579 (Jackson) Family Engagement Act – Helping Workers Attend to Childcare Necessities
SB 579 ensures that parents can be engaged in their children’s education and child care by allowing them to use job-protected, unpaid time off already provided by the Family School Partnership Act to find and enroll their children in child care or school. In addition, it will protect families during unexpected interruptions in child care by allowing parents to use paid sick days to care for their children during child care emergencies.
AB 357 (Chiu & Weber) Fair Scheduling Act of 2015
A growing number of American workers are subject to last minute work schedules. These workers have little control over their monthly earnings and these schedules prevent workers from scheduling stable child care arrangements or working a second job. AB 357 would require certain large retail employers to provide workers at least two weeks’ notice of their work schedules, and pay them for work missed as a result of last-minute schedule changes. Moreover, it would require these employers to accommodate workers’ needs to attend appointments at the county social services agency necessary to apply for or maintain eligibility for food and cash assistance.
AB 908 (Gomez) A Stronger Paid Family Leave Program for Stronger Families
California’s Paid Family Leave program provides partial wage replacement (approximately 55% of prior wage levels) for up to six weeks for bonding with a new child or caring for a relative. The program is wholly funded through worker contributions, and is administered by the Employment Development Department (EDD) in tandem with the State Disability Insurance (SDI) program. For many workers who are paid low wages, 55% of their wages is insufficient to cover their basic needs.
AB 908 would raise the wage replacement rate for workers, and extend family leave for four additional weeks. These changes would provide additional economic security so workers can take family leave without risking severe financial hardship. The minimum weekly benefit payment would be $250, and wage replacement rates would range from 65% for higher income workers to 80% for low-income workers.
The California Work & Family Coalition
The California Work & Family Coalition is an alliance of working parents, caregivers, advocates, and union members working on policies that expand and protect every Californian’s right to put their family first. We helped pass California’s Paid Family Leave law and we continue to advocate for policies that ensure the economic security of families. We educate workers, policymakers, and employers about the ways that work-family balance can help children and families thrive.
For information about the California Work & Family Coalition, go to workfamilyca.org or e-mail Jenya Cassidy at email@example.com.
Join Educators Collaborate for a viewing of the documentary, The Raising of America. The documentary explores how a strong start for all our kids can lead to a healthier, safer, better educated and more prosperous and equitable America.
Monday, March 23, 2015
6:00 – 8:30pm
San Jose Conference Room
Santa Clara County Office of Education
1290 Ridder Park Drive
San Jose, CA 95131
After the viewing, there will be a panel discussion centered upon family access to California’s Paid Family Leave and the California Family Rights Act – both important laws that support working parents’ and caregivers’ ability to be there when their children and families need them most. Read more about the event here.
Julie Nicholson, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Practice in the School of Education at Mills College.
Jenya Cassidy, statewide Director of the California Work & Family Coalition.
Julie Weatherston, Senior Program Associate with the Center for Child and Family Studies at WestEd.
Dr. Kelley Abrams, who received her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in developmental psychology where she focused on infant-parent attachment.