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Good News for New York’s Tipped Workers: Your Minimum Wage is Going Up

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in these timesNew York Governor Andrew Cuomo is no friend to labor, but this week his policies helped one of the most vulnerable segments of workers. On February 24, Commissioner of Labor Mario Musolino announced he would be following the earlier recommendation from the Wage Board to increase the minimum wage for tipped workers 50 percent to $7.50 an hour.

The move is the culmination of a process that began when Cuomo appointed the Wage Board last fall. Tipped workers were explicitly exempted from the 2013 minimum wage increase in New York state.

New York’s minimum wage for other workers is currently $8.75, and will be increasing to $9.00 on December 31. While servers are entitled to making at least that same minimum wage, with employers legally obligated to make up any shortfall, the law is often ignored. Cuomo says he would eventually like to see the state minimum wage increase to $10.50 and go as high as $11.50 in New York City.

While a big win for the hospitality industry as a whole, some groups are emphasizing the importance of the measure for women especially. According to the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), a workers organization with groups around the country that has worked to eliminate the two-tier tips-no tips wage system altogether, 71 percent of servers in the food industry are female—workers who, because of the tipped system, often say they face high levels of sexual harassment on the job.

“Today’s announcement is a victory for the thousands of New York women who have been demanding a more just and hospitable work environment in one of the fastest growing and largest economic sectors in the country—the restaurant industry,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of ROC United, in a statement. Jayaraman said they would continue to work toward the elimination of the two-tiered system.

Seven states have eliminated the two tiered structure already.

The increase will help of thousands of workers. According to ROC’s statistics, one in three tipped workers are parents, one in six of those have children that qualify for free lunch, one in seven tipped workers relies on food stamps.

Tipped workers have been subject to a separate wage in New York since the Minimum Wage Law of 1937. Since then, tips have been taken into account so that employers could pay lower wages. Forty-two other states have a similar system.

This article originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on February 26, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Kevin is an educator and freelance writer in Chicago.

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Executive Council Creates Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice

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Image: Mike Hall“America’s legacy of racism and racial injustice has been and continues to be a fundamental obstacle to workers’ efforts to act together to build better lives for all of us,” says the AFL-CIO Executive Council in a statement announcing the creation of a Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice.

The statement, released today at the council’s winter meeting in Atlanta, acknowledges “an ugly history of racism in our own movement” and adds:

“Yet at the same time the labor movement has a proud history of standing for racial and economic justice. When we have embraced our better selves we have always emerged stronger in every sense. And whenever we have succumbed to the temptation to see some working people as better than others, we have always ended up weaker.”

Pointing to today’s dramatically increasing economic inequality, decreasing union density and growing instability for the majority of Americans, the council says, “The need for all workers to strengthen common interests in achieving economic justice is clear.”

“At the same time our different experiences organized around race, gender identity, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation often challenge and complicate this shared experience. If we are to succeed as a movement, the full range of working peoples’ voices must be heard in the internal processes of our movement. To be able to stand together we have to understand where all of us are coming from.”

The council points to the unemployment rate for African Americans—10.3%, more than twice as high as that for whites—the criminal justice system and educational inequities that are large parts of a “world divided in many ways by color lines.”

“At the same time working people share a common experience of falling wages and rising economic insecurity. To build a different, better economy we need power that can only come from unity and unity has to begin with having all our voices be heard, on all sides of those color lines. We have to start by acknowledging our own shortcomings and honestly addressing issues that are faced by the communities in which our members live—both the problems and the solutions. We have to find a way to see with each other’s eyes and address the facts and realities.”

The Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice will:

  • Facilitate a broad conversation with local labor leaders around racial and economic disparities and institutional biases, and identify ways to become more inclusive as the new entrants to the labor force diversify;
  • Engage in six to eight labor discussions around the country, with local labor leaders, constituency groups and young workers addressing racial and economic issues impacting the labor movement and offering recommendations for change; and
  • Attempt to create a safe, structured and constructive opportunity for local union leaders to discuss issues pertaining to the persistence of racial injustice today in the workforce and in their communities, and to ensure that the voices of all working people in the labor movement are heard.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 25, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log.  He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

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Tipped Workers Score A Victory In New York In Fight For Better Pay

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Isaiah J. PooleTipped workers in New York state have won a major victory, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s Hospitality Wage Board announce that their minimum wage, which had been frozen at $5 an hour, will be increased to $7.50 an hour starting December 31.

This order follows years of protest and campaigning by low-wage workers throughout the state, who have not seen an increase in the tipped wage since 2011.

“Today’s announcement is a victory for the thousands of New York women who have been demanding a more just and hospitable work environment in one of the fastest growing and largest economic sectors in the country – the restaurant industry,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, one of the organizations at the forefront of the mobilization effort. (Jayaraman received the 2014 Paul Wellstone Citizen Leadership Award from the Campaign for America’s Future.)

This increase will affect workers in restaurants, hotels and in occupations where workers are dependent on tips for a portion of their income.

The new tipped wage will still be below the $9 minimum wage for untipped workers that is scheduled to go into effect on December 31. (The state’s minimum wage today is $8.75.) And Jayaraman says she is going to keep pressing toward the workers’ ultimate goal, which is to eliminate the tipped minimum wage entirely and move toward “one fair wage.”

Cuomo has endorsed the wage board’s recommendation that the tipped wage be eliminated entirely. Seven states plus Guam have done away with the tipped minimum wage for most, if not all, workers. The biggest of these is California. (Montana has an exception for some small businesses.)

Ondre Johnson, a ROC-NY restaurant-worker member and attendee at today’s announcement, issued a statement that put today’s announcement in perspective. “Relying largely on tips not only affects my dignity but also interferes with my service to customers,” she wrote. “I have to fight for tips and to get tables. Tips vary from day to day and there are months in a year, especially during the winter-time, where there is no work available at all. And I’ve seen my female co-workers tolerate customers grabbing their legs, withholding tips till they get a server’s phone number, and worse in order to not ruin a tip.”

At least for now, the coming raise “will help me to have a decent life by giving me fair compensation for my hard work,” she wrote. But for her and millions of other workers, the struggle for fair pay and dignity is by no means over.

This article originally appeared in ourfuture.org on February 24, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

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TPP: Four Potential Partners Don’t Comply with International Labor Rights

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charlie fanningA new AFL-CIO report released today finds that four nations that would be major players under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are out of compliance with international labor standards and, therefore, with the commitments they would undertake under the TPP. The report—The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Four Countries That Don’t Comply with U.S. Trade Laws—finds that workers in Mexico, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei face ongoing and systematic abuse and violations of workers’ rights with the complicity or direct involvement of the governments.

The Obama administration is pressing Congress to grant it Fast Track trade authority for the TPP, the largest Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in history. Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO is pressuring lawmakers to hold potential trading partners to comply with U.S. trade laws and international labor standards.

Under Fast Track, the public, lawmakers and others would have no input in a trade deal that would grant countries with troubling human and labor rights records greater trading privileges without having to first undertake fundamental reforms.

The highest labor standards the United States has embedded in FTAs require parties at a minimum to adopt and implement laws that protect the rights enshrined in the International Labor Organization’s (ILO’s) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

The report points out that previous FTAs have forced countries to compete on the basis of lowering labor costs and attracting business by ignoring, or in some cases actively interfering with, the fundamental labor rights.

By not requiring fundamental changes of these countries first, the TPP gives away leverage that could be used to protect workers and raise standards. If workers do not have the legal freedoms to act collectively, they will not be able to exert the power needed to raise wages, increase worker protections or gain the social policies necessary for the creation of a middle class and broadly shared prosperity.

Tell Congress to stop Fast Track on the TPP because we should not turn a blind eye to countries that abuse workers.

Here are just some of the ways the four nations violate these core labor standards:

 Mexico is currently facing a human and labor rights crisis. The recent disappearance of 43 students, now declared dead, from the teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, by local police and criminal gangs is a horrific example of violence, corruption and dissolution of the rule of law. Corruption, abuse and impunity are also root causes of the near absence of genuine industrial relations in Mexico, which artificially depresses wages and limits economic growth. Many workers are covered by collective agreements (“protection contracts”) they have never seen or ratified through a vote. When workers attempt to organize independent unions, employer-dominated unions respond with threats and intimidation. Further, child labor, forced labor and inhumane working conditions exist on farms that export fresh produce into the United States, which is then sold at major retailers, including Walmart and Safeway.

 Malaysia has grave problems with forced labor and human trafficking, especially in the electronics, garment and palm oil sector, which also contains child labor. Malaysia currently has the lowest possible ranking—tier 3—in the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report, meaning the government “does not fully comply with the minimum standards and is not making significant efforts to do so.” Because of this pervasive exploitation, virtually everyone who regularly uses electronics in the United States has come in contact with forced labor. Some of the most recognizable electronics brands source components from Malaysia, where about 28% of electronics workers toil in conditions of forced labor.

Vietnam has an authoritarian government that tightly controls political rights, freedom of speech and other civil liberties. The government maintains a prohibition on independent human rights organizations and other civil society groups and restricts union activity outside the official unions affiliated with the Communist Party of Vietnam’s Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), which actually controls the union registration process. Vietnam also has significant problems with forced labor and child labor in the production of bricks and garments,  Many of the clothes produced in Vietnam contain textiles from small workshops subcontracted to larger factories. These workshops frequently use child labor, including forced labor involving the trafficking of children from rural areas into cities.

Brunei is ruled by a repressive regime and offers few human rights protections. Last year, the sultan of Brunei, whose family has ruled Brunei for more than six centuries, imposed a strict penal code based on Sharia law. The Islamic criminal law includes punishments such as flogging, dismemberment and death by stoning for crimes such as adultery, alcohol consumption and homosexuality. Under emergency measures in place for 65 years, freedom of speech is severely limited and the country’s legislature has a limited role. Further, the government prohibits strikes, and the law makes no explicit provision for the right to collective bargaining.

This article originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 23, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Charlie Fanning is the Global Advocacy and Research Coordinator at AFL CIO

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Fox News commentator ‘appalled’ by Patricia Arquette’s call for equal pay

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Laura ClawsonAccepting the Oscar for best supporting actress, Patricia Arquette gave a shout out to equal pay, saying:

“To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It is our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

Social media lit up, mostly in approval, though some noted that her use of the term “citizen” excluded many immigrants. But that was not Fox News contributor Stacey Dash’s problem with Arquette’s statement:

“I was appalled. I could not believe it. I mean, first of all, Patricia Arquette needs to do her history. In 1963, Kennedy passed an equal pay law. It’s still in effect. I didn’t get the memo that I didn’t have any rights.”

Because “not quite equal rights” and “not any rights at all” are exactly the same thing. And a law calling for equal pay is all you need, even if in reality, women earn only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, and even if you work—as Patricia Arquette does—in an industry where recently leaked emails showed women being paid far less than their male counterparts.

This article originally appeared in dailykos.com on February 23, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011. Laura at Daily Kos

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Walmart Will Raise Its Minimum Wage To $10 An Hour

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Bryce CovertOn Thursday, Walmart announced that it will raise all of its full-time and part-time employees’ pay to at least $9 an hour starting in April. The lowest wage will rise to $10 an hour by February of next year.

In a press release, it said it is also raising pay for the compensation range for each position, and all told says that about 500,000 employees will see a raise from the changes. It also says the raises will mean its average hourly wage for full-time workers will increase from $12.85 to $13 an hour and the average for part-time workers will increase from $9.48 to $10 an hour.

It also promised that workers “will have more control over their schedules.” The wage increases will cost more than $1 billion this fiscal year.

In announcing the changes, CEO Doug McMillon acknowledged some of the criticism that the company has sacrificed customer loyalty because of its pay practices. “We have work to do to grow the business. We know what customers want from a shopping experience, and we’re investing strategically to exceed their expectations and better position Walmart for the future,” he said. “We’re strengthening investments in our people to engage and inspire them to deliver superior customer experiences.”

The company, which is the nation’s largest employer, has long come under fire for its low pay. While the company has said that it pays most workers above the minimum wage, it has also admitted in the past that the majority of its employees make under $25,000 a year. One study from 2013 of a single store in Wisconsin found that its pay was so low that workers consumed about $1 million in public benefits to get by.

Workers have repeatedly gone on strike over the past three years to demand higher pay, better scheduling, and the right to unionize. They have called for the store’s wage floor to rise to at least $15 an hour. Thursday’s announcement also comes after so many states raised their minimum wages above the federal $7.25 level that a third of Walmart stores had to raise their base wages anyway.

In an emailed statement, Emily Wells, a leader of the worker organizing group Our Walmart, said, “We are so proud that by standing together we won raises for 500,000 Walmart workers, whose families desperately need better pay and regular hours from the company we make billions for. We know that this wouldn’t have happen without our work to stand together with hundreds of thousands of supporters to change the country’s largest employer. The company is addressing the very issues that we have been raising about the low pay and erratic scheduling, and acknowledging how many of us are being paid less than $10 an hour, and many workers like me, are not getting the hours we need.” But she added, “Especially without a guarantee of getting regular hours, this announcement still falls short of what American workers need to support our families. With $16 billion in profits and $150 billion in wealth for the owners, Walmart can afford to provide the good jobs that Americans need – and that means $15 an hour, full-time, consistent hours and respect for our hard work.”

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on February 19, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media


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Why the New Law Combating Wage Theft in Chicago is a Big Deal

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in these timesIn a win for local workers, last week Illinois’s Cook County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed what workers’ advocates say is one of the strongest ordinances to combat wage theft to date in the U.S.

The Cook County Wage Theft Ordinance aims to punish companies guilty of shortchanging their workers by taking away lucrative county contracts and various tax incentives. Unscrupulous employers can steal from their workers in a number of ways, including not paying a minimum wage, incorrectly classifying employees as contractors, stealing tips and not paying overtime. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the ordinance would be a model for similar legislation nationwide.

The ordinance uses the economic leverage of the county to remove economic incentives from employers who steal wages. Businesses convicted of wage theft could risk losing their business licenses, as well as being barred from receiving contracts with the county and property tax incentives for a period of five years.

In 2013, Arise had success passing a similar ordinance in Chicago (which is located in Cook County). Under that ordinance, companies convicted of wage theft would have their business licenses revoked. After the success of that campaign, according to Adam Kader, director at Arise’s Worker Center, they wanted to explore what could happen at the county level. A major campaign this summer surrounding Source Interlink, Kader says, sped things up.

“It showed in a dramatic way, to elected officials, why wage theft is a fact that merits attention,” says Kader.

When Source Interlink, a magazine publishing company, shut down its McCook, Illinois, distribution center without notice on May 30, over 200 workers were left with no work or severance pay. The Illinois Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Ac requires large companies to provide 60 days’ notice about the layoffs, but Source Interlink did not. Arise supported the workers in finding new employment and in a class action lawsuit to recover their 60 days’ worth of wages against Source Interlink.

Arise also brought the issue to the attention of Jeffery Tobolski who, in addition to being a county commissioner, is the Mayor of McCook. Tobolski said that wage theft was a growing problem in Cook County that hurt both workers and law abiding businesses.

“Many businesses are targeting low wage workers,” he says, “who lack either the sophistication or the resources to adequately defend themselves.”

The language of the ordinance was the result of collaboration between Arise and the Board of Commissioners. Arise worked with Tobolski’s and Preckwinkle’s staffs to turn what was Arise’s concept into a functioning law.

“This was actually a collaborative effort. This wasn’t like Arise came in with demands and had to fight the county over it,” says Kader. “This was truly a community partnership.”

Aside from covering a greater geographic area than the previous wage theft law, the Cook County ordinance is larger in scope as well, going beyond business licenses and impacting the potential profits of dishonest businesses.

It received overwhelming support from the Board of Commissioners, including President Preckwinkle.

“In a sense, this is the least controversial law ever,” says Kader. “This is saying, ‘If you violate laws, you’re not going to get other public benefits.’ ”

Wage theft is a problem with large amounts of money at stake, especially for low-wage workers. In 2008, a joint study by the Center for Urban Economic Development, the National Employment Law Project, and the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment found that nearly 60 percent of the surveyed workers had experienced some sort of wage violation. The violations included examples of not receiving overtime pay, breaks shorter than legally required, and being paid below the minimum wage.

The study concluded that “many employment and labor laws are regularly and systematically violated, impacting a significant part of the low-wage labor force in the nation’s largest cities.”

More recently, the Economic Policy Institute published a study in an attempt to gauge the amount of money workers lose due to wage theft. In 2012, the study surveyed the departments of labor or attorneys general offices of nine states, and found those institutions had recovered nearly $1 billion in stolen wages. The study suggested increasing the penalties for wage theft violations, noting that the maximum civil penalty is just $1,100.

In recent years, states and local governments have made some progress in setting stricter fines for violators, and stricter penalties for repeat offenders. Cook County’s ordinance, by using the carrot and stick of county contracts—as well as applying to first time violators—is the harshest in the nation thus far, and should serve as a benchmark for future campaigns.

“The legislation passed today will make Cook County a national leader in targeting wage theft,” said Preckwinkle.

This article originally appeared in Inthesetimes.com on February 17, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Kevin is an educator and freelance writer in Chicago.

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Philadelphia Joins the Growing List of State/Local Governments Passing Paid Sick Days Laws

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Kenneth QuinnellThe city of Philadelphia is set to become the 17th city (along with three states) that requires paid sick leave after Mayor Michael Nutter (D) signed legislation passed yesterday by the City Council. Philadelphia is the second city, after Tacoma, Wash., to pass paid sick days this year so far. Nutter previously vetoed similar laws because he said the economy couldn’t handle the change during a recession.

Councilman William K. Greenlee, who sponsored the bill, said:

“The people who do not have paid sick leave are the people who need it the most. They’re low-income workers, single mothers; they’re college students or people just starting in the workforce.”

The law goes into effect in 90 days, when businesses with 10 or more employees will be required to give workers a paid hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked, up to five days a year. The sick time can be used for personal illness or that of a family member, or in seeking support after domestic violence or sexual assault.  While 200,000 Philadelphia residents will benefit from the new law, it still excludes independent contractors, seasonal workers, adjunct professors, interns, government employees and workers covered by collective bargaining agreements. Businesses that already offer comparable or better paid sick leave to their employees will not have to change their rules. Violations of the law can be punished with fines, penalties and restitution.

As Think Progress notes, dire warnings of the negative effects of paid sick leave laws have failed to materialize elsewhere:

“Despite the concern from business that paid sick leave requirements will be too costly, the evidence from places that already have them backs up the idea that they won’t be harmful. The vast majority of employers have come to support these laws, while they haven’t hurt local economies and, in fact, many cities have outperformed after their laws were enacted.”

This blog originally appeared on aflcio.org on February 13, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Author’s name is Kenneth Quinnell.  He is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

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Healthy Families Act Would Let Workers Earn Paid Sick Days

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Image: Mike HallThere are least 43 million U.S. workers who cannot earn a single paid sick day and have to decide between losing wages or even risking their jobs to take care of their own illness or a sick family member. On Thursday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the Healthy Families Act that would give workers the opportunity to earn up to seven paid sick days they could use for personal illnesses or to take care of sick family members.

In related news (see below), the Philadelphia City Council passed a new paid sick days law on Thursday.

Responding to the Healthy Families Act, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler said:

“Too many people are still being forced to choose between getting a paycheck and taking care of a loved one. Let’s pass the Healthy Families Act and make sure no worker has to make that choice again.”

Nationally more than four in 10 private-sector workers and 81% of low-wage workers do not have paid sick days. A 2014 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that Latinos and those who make less than $20,000 a year are the workers least likely to have paid sick days. Only 47% of Latino workers get paid sick days.

Even worse, less than 28% of workers who make under $20,000 a year have paid sick days and many of those are food service workers, and only 24% of food preparation and service workers have access to paid sick days, despite the fact that most health departments recommend that these workers not go to work sick. Said Debra L. Ness, president of National Partnership for Women & Families:

“The Healthy Families Act is about allowing moms to stay home to care for children with strep, without having their pay docked. It’s about adult sons being able to miss a day of work to take an aging parent for medical tests, without losing their jobs. It’s about child care and nursing home staff being able to stay home when they have the flu, instead of infecting the people they care for. It’s about restaurant workers not being forced to report to work, and handle food, when they are infectious. It’s about being able to see a doctor for an eye infection before it becomes severe. It’s about common sense, public health and family economic security. It’s about dignity.”

There also is a growing move across the nation, from Congress to statehouses to city halls, to pass paid family leave and paid sick days legislation. Twenty jurisdictions across the country now have paid sick days standards in place.

The new Philadelphia paid sick leave will require employers with 10 or more employees to allow their full-time and part-time workers to accrue at least five days of paid sick leave a year. Marianne Bellasorte of the group Pathways PA said:

“We are the 17th city to pass paid sick days. So far, there have been no bad reports, nothing has gone wrong. Businesses are thriving, workers are thriving. There’s no reason to believe Philadelphia will be any different.”

California, Connecticut and Massachusetts have state-paid sick day laws.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 13, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log.  He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

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How Everyone Benefits When New Fathers Take Paid Leave

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Bryce CovertPaid maternity leave is mandated in nearly every country but ours: As President Obama noted in the State of the Union when he called for national paid family leave, “We’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers.” Paternity leave, on the other hand, is not as widespread: 70 countries guarantee paid leave for fathers after the birth of their children, compared to 182 that ensure maternity leave.

But paid paternity leave comes with a variety of benefits for companies, employees, and their families that can’t be gotten with paid maternity leave alone.

Blue State Digital, a consulting firm that helps campaigns and organizations with online strategy, increased paid leave from two weeks to six minimum for both men and women in 2013, with three weeks tacked on for each year an employee stays at the company, up to 12 weeks total. “We believe it’s the right thing to do, the right way to treat employees,” said Marie Danzig, the company’s head of creative and delivery.

But it’s not just because of values. It’s also a business decision. “We made the change because we did a lot of research into what other companies were doing,” Danzig said. “I expect in the long run, the benefits will absolutely outweigh the short-term costs.”

There will of course be short-term costs to cover employees who are gone longer. But Blue State expects that the long-term benefits of higher retention and productivity as well as the ability attract top talent will more than make up for it.

“Retention is just so important,” she noted. “If you lose someone, you might need to spend more time and energy and money on recruiting someone than you would obviously if you’re able to retain excellent employees.” Paid family leave has become an important way to signal to employees that the company is investing in them. “People feel their company is committed to them in the long term, that their happiness and wellbeing is prioritized over short-term profit. Ultimately I do see this translating into a deeper commitment from employees.” It can also boost their productivity by creating “an environment where you can really bring the best of yourself to work everyday,” she said.

Matt Ipcar, Blue State’s executive creative director and SVP, just came back from a two-month leave for the birth of his second child. “I’ve been here six years, it’s the longest place I’ve ever worked,” he said. Paid leave helped him want to stick around.

“There’s something about sitting with your family in a nice cozy house, not having to go to work, and getting a paycheck to pay for all the things that you need,” he said. “In the back of your mind you’re constantly like, ‘Wow, my company is really great.’”

And in the tech space, where competition for talent is cutthroat, Blue State’s family leave policy helps it stay competitive. Because the agency caters to a less corporate clientele, it may not be able to match the salaries at strictly commercial agencies. “But this is something Blue State Digital can do to make the lives of its employees better,” Danzig noted.

“In the long run, I think this policy is certainly going to be positive not only for employees, but also the company as a whole,” she said.

Businesses may not be as eager to make the leap as Blue State out of worry about the costs of paid family leave. But there’s evidence that the benefits of providing leave can outweigh the costs. Three American states have paid family leave programs, which cover both parents: California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. California’s was the first, and two economists did detailed surveys of 253 firms in the state. The vast majority of employers said the policy had minimal impact on their business operations. On the other hand, 91 percent said it had a positive or neutral effect on profitability and employee performance and 89 percent said the same of productivity.

A similar story has played out in New Jersey: of 18 surveyed businesses, the vast majority said it hadn’t had any impact on their finances. Twelve said it had a positive impact on their work.


Overall, paid family leave helps keep people in the workforce after they have children. When more workers are able to take leave, they’re more likely to choose to remain in the labor market, and paid parental leave is associated with higher employment in economies around the world. This is true on the individual firm level as well. In California, employee retention in lower-skilled jobs increased to 83 percent for those who took leave compared to 74 percent of those who didn’t take it. That saved employers $89 million a year.

It also helps to draw men in to a job. In a survey of 1,000 employed fathers, 90 percent said if they were thinking of having another child and considering a new job, it would be important for a new employer to provide paid leave, with 60 percent who said it’s extremely or very important. Nearly half of fathers feel they don’t get to spend enough time with their children.

Paid paternity leave doesn’t just help fathers, though. It has important benefits for their families and spouses.

A longer leave definitely made a difference for Ipcar’s experience. His first child was born before the more generous leave was put in place, so he took two paid weeks of parental leave plus another three of paid vacation and holiday time. “I remember thinking at the time that getting two weeks paid was pretty amazing, and it was amazing,” he recalled.

But the ability to stay home longer with his daughter changed the experience. “What happens after five weeks at that age, they just start to smile at nine weeks, they’re just starting to become super cute at about the time you have to go back to work,” he said. “It was nice this time to see the earlier stages. I saw them with our first born, but I wasn’t really there all the time.”

Being there for the early months has ripple effects for fathers later into their children’s lives. A dad who takes two or more weeks off after the birth of his child ends up more involved in his child’s direct care nine months later — changing diapers, feeding, bathing — than a father who doesn’t take leave. Men who can take paternity leave also end up being more competent and committed fathers later in their children’s lives.

Paid maternity leave offers new mothers the break they physically need without breaking the bank. But paid paternity leave goes even further. It often changes a family’s gender dynamics and helps mothers stay attached to the workforce. At Blue State, 12 parents have taken leave since the beginning of last year, which has been evenly split between mothers and fathers. “This parental leave policy helps eliminate the stigma around women and men taking time off to be with newborns and family,” Danzig said. She believes it has helped increase “gender equality in the home and in the workplace.”

When men are offered paid leave, they tend to take as much as is made available to them. After California’s paid leave program went into effect, the number of fathers taking leave doubled and they took more time.

That relieves some of the burden of parenting from the mothers’ shoulders. A paper published last month looked at Quebec’s family leave program, which not only offers paid family leave but includes a “daddy quota,” or five weeks of paid leave only they can take. Before it went into effect, household duties split along gender lines, with women doing most of the unpaid work and men doing more paid work in the office. Afterward, fathers who were eligible for the leave increased the time they spent on household duties by 23 percent. Mothers, for their part, were more likely to be employed full time, work longer hours, and even saw an increase of over 25 percent in their incomes.

A study of a similar paid family leave program in Sweden found that a mother’s income rose 7 percent for every month of leave her husband took. A number of other cross-country studies have found that fathers who take leave do more childcare and that the time fathers spend on childcare is higher in countries with generous paternity leave policies.

But some countries have found that to really get men to take leave, a portion has to be set aside just for them, as was done in Quebec and has been implemented in places like Sweden and Iceland.

And there are some drawbacks. Just as women’s earnings suffer from the “motherhood penalty,” research has found that men’s earnings can suffer too when they take time off for family reasons. Men who take family leave are also at a higher risk of getting demoted or disciplined.

The negative stigma may dissipate, however, as more parents of both genders take leave. A study done in Norway found that if one man takes paid family leave at his company, the male coworkers around him become much more likely to take it themselves when their children arrive. The more both parents take leave, the more it becomes normalized.

Ipcar has seen that at Blue State Digital. He found a lot of interest in his leave when he got back to work. “You’re being asked advice from the people who are about to have kinds and you’re exchanging funny stories with the other parents and getting advice from them too,” he said. “It’s been really nice.”

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on February 13, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media


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