Sitting alongside some of the leading advocates for the Paid Family Leave Act, Carolyn “Cat” Davis spoke about her experience as a black working mother during some of her 12-year time span of being a Walmart Associate. Davis detailed the crisis she found herself in when she became pregnant with her first child and was unable to take the necessary time off to take care of her newborn. The United for Respect leader also recounted the stories of her co-workers who, in fear of being fired, had to return back to Walmart only two days after giving birth.
“The disparity between the time off that we [the workers] get compared to the ten weeks of paid family leave that the [Walmart] executives are granted demonstrates the lack of fairness in these policies,” Davis concluded.
Davis eventually organized a petition that consisted of signatures from approximately 100,000 Walmart associates. Despite being instrumental in convincing Walmart to institute a respective 10 and 6 week paid family leave policy for new mothers and parents, Davis argues that there is still more work to be done.
Noting the wealth discrepancies present amongst working class Americans, Dariely Rodriquez, the director of the Economic Justice Project at the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and one of the organizers of the briefing, said in her opening statement, “We must prioritize this issue for communities of color that we represent across the country. A national paid leave program created by the FAMILY Act would provide the much needed financial security to workers and families of color and significantly reduce the number of families who fall into poverty after taking unpaid leave.”
Regardless of party affiliation, 84% of working Americans support the proposal for paid family leave. The panelists who participated in last week’s Quad-Caucus briefing on the FAMILY Act argue that paid family leave is essential for working class Americans of color.
“When people of color don’t have access to paid family leave, it decreases their attendance in higher education, lifetime earnings, and the likelihood of building generational wealth far more than their white counterparts,” explained Melanie M. Campbell, the director and CEO of Black Women’s Roundtable.
When the discrepancies faced by working class families are taken into context with the United States’ long history with racism, the statistics associated with a lack of paid family leave become a part of a longer narrative associated with economic immobility for people of color.
“Systematic racism is a prime factor as to why people of color are pushed into low paying jobs, which are often characterized by a lack of upward mobility,” cited Davis.
Regarding past legislation that has been passed at the state level in support of paid family leave, the panelists agreed that there are systemic issues within the status quo that prevent working class families of color from taking time off from work. Carol Joyner, the director of the Labor Project for Working Families, cited job protection, wage replacement, adequate time for workers to care for their family members, and broad family definitions as key factors that are often missing from state mandated laws.
To establish a robust foundation for paid family leave, the panelists argued that it is imperative that the federal government pass the FAMILY Act. Still, panelist Vasu Reddy, the senior policy counsel for the National Partnership for Women and Families, stresses the importance of details.
According to Joyner, a compelling federal proposal for paid family leave has to include the three A’s: accessibility, affordability, and an adequate duration of time off. The panelists agreed that a federal plan that includes these provisions will leave the states more room to innovate in order to create more equitable environments for their working classes.
Yet, what is missing from the status quo is a comprehensive plan for how paid family leave will be instituted for undocumented workers of color. Some states, like New Jersey, have made a specific provision in their paid family leave policies for workers to have a social security number.
Joining the conversation was Congressman Steven Horsford, who is a proponent for Nevada’s working class families. Horsford stated, “Having access to paid leave strengthens our families, which is essential for building strong communities.”