By Jenya Cassidy, California Policy Director, Labor Project for Working Families
Big news for working parents: Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer just doubled the amount of paid parental leave for her employees. Now Yahoo moms can take 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave, and new fathers can take eight weeks of paternity leave. Parents by adoption, foster or surrogacy can also take eight paid weeks off for bonding.
For Mayer, increasing parental leave is a good business decision. For families, parental leave is critical to the health and well-being of children and their economic security.
In the US, fewer than one in five employers provide any paid parental leave. We lag far behind other countries in workers’ access to paid leave but Mayer’s announcement takes place in the context of a growing national movement for paid family leave and paid sick days for all workers.
In California, where Yahoo! is headquartered, a group of unions and community organizations – the California Work and Family Coalition – took the lead in passing the nation’s first Paid Family Leave (PFL) law in 2002. PFL is an insurance benefit that most California workers pay into. It provides up to 6 weeks of partial pay to people who take time off work to bond with a new baby, adopted or foster child or to care for a seriously ill family member.
Paid Family Leave has positively impacted the health and well-being of families: according to a 2011 study, it doubled the duration of breastfeeding rates and increased the number of fathers taking time off for baby bonding. The same study shows that paid leave had either a beneficial effect or no effect on employer productivity or profitability. Over 60% of employers surveyed benefited from the program by using it to enhance their ability to help their employees, which increased retention.
But we still have work to do. Over half of Californians are unaware of the PFL program, and that number is even lower for low income, Latino, new immigrant and young workers. Also, many people who pay into PFL can’t access it because they work for a small employer and won’t have job protection when they take leave.
On April 10, I attended a hearing in the state capitol where a young woman testified in support of SB 761 (DeSaulnier), a bill that would prohibit employer retaliation against California workers who take Paid Family Leave. In her testimony, the woman cried as she described being terminated for taking Paid Family Leave to bond with her newly adopted children – family members whose parents had been killed in a car accident. She worked for a small employer and – though she paid into PFL – she did not have the right to take job-protected (FMLA) leave. So the employer exercised his ‘right’ to fire her for taking the time off.
This is the reality for many people – putting family first, even in an emergency, can cost them their jobs.
In California, we can change this by raising awareness of the state’s Paid Family Leave benefit, working to pass SB 761 to protect workers’ right to take paid family leave and work together to encourage more employers to follow Marissa Mayer’s lead in offering more than the law requires. I suggest we celebrate expanded family leave for Yahoo! workers by working toward making it the norm for all workers.
President Obama’s rhetorical plea for universal preschool has yet to be translated into an actionable policy proposal, but we can reasonably assume that any expansion of early learning services for young children will create a demand for more preschool teachers. And not just more teachers but trained ones: Twenty-nine state-funded preschool programs currently require educators with a bachelor’s degree, and many of them demand additional teacher certification. Two days after the State of the Union, the president called for programs staffed by “highly qualified, educated” teachers, saying, “This is not babysitting. This is teaching.”
Prospective teachers may find their way to the preschool classroom via multiple pathways, depending on their educational and work experience. Each pathway, however, will require specific professional development opportunities and attendant resources to ensure that teachers, regardless of their route to preschool, can effectively promote children’s learning. For instance, some teachers currently working in kindergarten and the early elementary grades might choose, or find themselves assigned to, a classroom of 4-year-olds. Because these teachers would likely only have student teaching experience in the elementary (K-3) grades, additional practice and coursework on early childhood education and development combined with classroom mentoring will likely be in order.
Late elementary and secondary school teachers could also find themselves at the preschool door, depending on state certification policies and union and district practices, which might include moving less effective teachers of older children to “non-testing” age groups. California, for example, recently raised the age of kindergarten entry to 5 and launched transitional kindergarten to meet its obligation to 4-year-olds born in the fall who no longer qualified for kindergarten entry. There is no specific preschool training or certification required for transitional kindergarten teachers; however, many districts are initiating professional development projects to ensure that teachers experienced working with 10-year-olds, for example, can learn how to implement more appropriate instructional strategies for younger children than the more formal and didactic approaches common in the older grades. Such efforts, and possibly some additional coursework or certification, will be necessary for this population of teachers.
As noted in a recently released study about Boston Public Schools’ prekindergarten program, preschool works to narrow the achievement gap when teachers are highly qualified and well-paid. However, salaries for teachers of young children are more often deplorably low, even for those who have made a considerable investment in their education and training. And with poor compensation comes high teacher turnover and low instructional quality, both of which impede children’s development and learning. If comparable pay with K-12 teachers, as proposed by the White House, survives the policy process, many current teachers who hold bachelor’s degrees and are working in Head Start and private preschool programs (about one-quarter of the current early care and education workforce) are likely to stampede toward their new local public preschool and the better pay and benefits it will provide.
These teachers, who currently are not required to complete state teacher certification requirements, may be expected to do so. They are also likely to need classroom mentoring and other professional development opportunities depending on how recently they earned their degrees, and whether or not their degrees included a pedagogical focus on young children. Many former early childhood teachers pushed from the classroom for financial reasons could also decide to return to preschool teaching if it offers more than a poverty–level wage. They, of course, will need to update their training and skills depending on how long it has been since they taught.
Another important pathway to preschool teaching will be taken by current child care and preschool teachers and teaching assistants without four-year degrees who are eager to advance their education. In my experience as a researcher, these teachers are most often women of color, many of whom are bilingual, reflecting the languages and cultures of the increasingly diverse population of young children in the U.S.; if adequately supported to achieve degrees, they will help to diversify the predominately white, non-Hispanic teacher workforce. New Jersey, for example, offered supports such as financial assistance, academic counseling and tutoring to child care providers and Head Start teachers who wished to teach preschool in the state’s public schools. The success of the program demonstrated that low-paid, working adults could achieve their educational goals.
Last, but not least, today’s younger college students could follow a path to preschool education, if jobs awaiting graduates pay salaries commensurate to teachers of older children. If not, college students interested in teaching young children, like countless others before them, will veer toward older grades because they offer higher compensation and status.
While the focus has been on the president’s call for universal preschool, his proposal also includes expanding and improving early learning programs for younger children attending child care and Early Head Start and through home visiting. Along with everything that must be done to expand public preschool offerings, we need to ensure that process doesn’t drain well-trained early educators away from the vulnerable population of babies, toddlers and 3-year-olds whose brains are developing at a dazzling pace. This will be the most devilish detail to get right.
Planning and investment in the teacher preparation infrastructure must be a feature of new preschool policy. This should involve both expanding and revamping courses of study to include a focus on younger children, and establishing better programs to ensure the competence of those professionals who will be needed to train andmentor prospective preschool teachers.
Marcy Whitebook is the director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley.
By Melissa Josephs, WeNews commentator
Originally posted on April 9, 2013. on WeNews
On April 9 we mark Equal Pay Day, a time for spurring the modernization of the Equal Pay Act. But let’s not stop there. Let’s also attack the problems of low-paid work and volatile scheduling that hold back millions of female workers.
(WOMENSENEWS)– On April 9 we mark the day that women’s earnings catch up to the amount men earned in the previous year. It’s a day to amplify our commitment to fair pay so that in years to come, the day gets a lot closer to Jan. 1.
This year on Equal Pay Day, let’s build on decades of hard work for fairness and justice for female workers; let’s expand the agenda to encompass fair pay.
Let’s redouble our efforts and remind people of the basic truth that President Barack Obama stated in his inaugural address: “We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship.”
Right now, women still make only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and the gap is even wider for African American women and Latinas.
Irregular scheduling practices are the latest threat to fair pay for female workers, especially those in service industries. About half of low-wage workers have irregular schedules, calibrated by employers to the peaks and valleys of customer traffic. Sometimes, in food service for example, the hours are determined by the weather. Increasingly, employees are required to be “on call,” waiting at home to learn whether they will be asked to work or not.
More and more women don’t know how many hours they’ll be given to work week to week or when they’ll be required to report. They can’t predict their incomes, enroll in school or training or find workable child care arrangements.
Pushed Into Poverty
Millions of women today earn less than $12 per hour, in jobs most people would not consider decent work. Many low-wage workers in caregiving occupations, retail and food service have no paid sick days, so they are in danger of losing their jobs if they or their children are ill. More women who want full-time jobs are working part time, and as a result, have no access to basic benefits. A recent The New York Times article on part-time work, “A Part-Time Life, as Hours Shrink and Shift,” addresses the ways in which this type of work pushes many into poverty.
To close the wage gap and strengthen women’s economic stability, we need to advocate for fair pay. And fair pay includes a higher minimum wage, a right to earn sick days, protections against the abuses of irregular schedules and parity in benefits for part-time workers.
It includes extending basic employment protections to the growing number of home care workers that our society needs and to domestic workers.
To ensure equal pay for equal work, we need stronger enforcement of equal pay requirements and stronger laws. The Paycheck Fairness Act (S84/HR377), now languishing in Congress, will strengthen the 50-year-old Equal Pay Act by assessing stronger penalties for violations, facilitating class action lawsuits and establishing a non-retaliation provision for employees who discuss their salaries with co-workers.
But equal pay for equal work is only part of the solution to the persistent wage gap. We need to go well beyond modernizing the Equal Pay Act, as the Paycheck Fairness Act would do. We must attack the problem of low-paid work and the financial instability that characterizes so much of the work women do in our economy.
Melissa Josephs, a longtime activist for fair workplaces, is director of equal opportunity policy at Women Employed, a 40-year-old organization that mobilizes people and organizations to expand educational and employment opportunities for America’s working women.