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The American Prospect has just put out an entire issue about family/work balance.

This is an issue that effects me very directly. I am a member of a dual career marriage, we are both at the start of our careers in science. We both have a tremendous amount already invested, and ambitions for successful careers. We also hope to have our first children in the next few years.

The prospect of balancing these goals is terrifying. Specifically, I am terrified that I will fail in my career not because I lack talent or a work ethic, but because I lack the support to do it all. My husband is terrific, I am confident I will get the support I need from him. But, I fear this will not be enough, the system is simply not designed for dual-career families.

So, I want to talk about putting family friendly workplace policies on the national agenda. This diary is a brief overview of the elements of a family friendly workplace policy. There are many things important for healthy families that are not covered here, most notably healthcare and education. Here I cover only the suite of policies that are needed to solve the work/life balance problem, this diary is about workplace leave, protection from employment discrimination and quality care for dependents. Most of this diary comes from a summary of information from the Center for Law and Social Policy website:

I am no expert, I am only just learning about these issues myself. So please, contribute your suggestions and opinions: Am I covering the bases with this list of issues? Does anyone have experience lobbying for paid sick leave, or protection against employment discrimination? Any thoughts about how to get these issues onto the national agenda?

<h1>The Issues</h1>

  1. Paid Sick Leave

The most basic element of a family friendly workplace, you know what it is, but did you know nearly half of american workers don't have it! The international standard is to guarantee at least seven days per year.

Last session there was a bill to guarantee sick leave for all (The Health Families Act, sponsored by Sen. Kennedy) but it was never voted on. San Francisco has recently passed an ordinance requiring sick leave for all---let's hope the trend catches on!

  1. Maternity/Paternity leave

This is time off for new children. It applies to the initial months after a birth or adoption. In the U.S. we have The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), this requires employers to allow at least twelve weeks of maternity/paternity leave (unpaid).

A major inadequacy of the FMLA is that it only applies to employers with more than fifty employees, excluding about half of american workers. Also, most industrialized nations require some paid maternity/paternity leave. And many allow longer leave times. We need to expand the FMLA.

  1. Family leave/Parental leave/Sabbaticals

Many nations require that employers allow family leave without endangering their jobs. These are large blocks of time (often up to six weeks) and usually unpaid. This is distinct from maternity/paternity leave, it includes time to care for a sick child or a sick relative, to handle a funeral, or manage a family crisis.

  1. Leave for routine care giving

This is usually shorter blocks of time, for example taking an afternoon off to take a sick child to a doctor's appointment. This can also include allowing flexible workhours.

  1. Infant/toddler care and pre-school

We need universal access to affordable, quality childcare. Access to care requires (1) an adequate supply of certified care providers, (2) conveniently located care centers and (3) care center hours that match work schedules. Access also requires affordability, which likely will require some level of subsidy. Quality care requires meaningful certification of care providers and centers.

  1. Respite care for older adults

Very similar issues as above: access, quality, affordability. Here access is primarily a matter of adequate supply and convenient locations of care center.

  1. After school and summer programs

This is important for making the school schedule match the work schedule.

  1. Protection against employment discrimination

This is at the heart of the matter, only 22 states specifically prohibit prospective employers from inquiring about an applicants marital status, this means that maternal profiling is a serious concern for many women.

<h1>The Candidates</h1>

Finally, I want to speak very briefly about the presidential candidates. I attached some videos of Clinton and Obama speaking last fall at a MomsRising event. Clinton has a long history with this set of issues (a large part of why I support her in the primaries) Here is an excerpt from her senate issues site,

To help provide flexibility for families, I have championed legislation that would expand after school programs, make high-quality childcare more accessible and affordable for working parents, and provide respite care for elderly individuals who are unable to care for themselves. I have also co-sponsored legislation that would ensure that workers can take paid time off when they are sick.

To the best of my knowledge, neither Edwards nor Obama has a record on these issue. Obama did co-host the MomsRising event (with Senators Clinton, Dodd and Kennedy), and is clearly sympathetic, also he has proposed legislation promoting quality fatherhood, from his campaign website,

Senator Obama introduced the Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act with Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) to remove some of the government penalties on married families and support fathers already trying to do the right thing, while also cracking down on men trying to avoid their parental responsibilities. The bill provides fathers with an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit. It also would increase child support enforcement and strengthen domestic violence prevention services

I am sure, given a chance, that Edwards would be supportive of family friendly policies. But I am not aware of any work he has done in this area.

Here are a few resources, if you want to learn more:

National Partnership for Women and Families

Center for Law and Social Policy

UC Work Life Law

Originally posted to heartofblue on Mon Mar 26, 2007 at 12:12 PM PDT.

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