Paid family and medical leave has become a top-tier policy issue. Over the past several years, a number of high-profile corporations have announced new and expanded paid parental leave programs. However, access to paid family leave remains primarily available to the already privileged. In 2017, only 13 percent of private sector employees had access to paid family leave, including 24 percent of the most highly paid tenth, but only 4 percent of the lowest paid tenth. If left solely to private sector initiative, most U.S. workers will continue to lack access to extended paid leaves to care for a new child or deal with serious health conditions. Workers who already face obstacles to achieving and maintaining good health and economy security will largely be left behind, including those in smaller companies, lower-income employees, workers of color, and gig economy workers.
The policy that Washington adopted is a strong one, based on public health research, learnings from other state programs, and community input. But it is not perfect. The discussion below points to best current practices and options to consider in designing a new program.
The retail sector is an integral part of the Los Angeles landscape with almost half a million
workers in the county, and 147,157 workers in the city. Retail makes up one-tenth of
the private sector workforce in the county and is its second largest employer. Yet more
than half of the county’s workforce earn low wages. In the past few years, local and
statewide policies have focused on transforming low-wage work, including a raise in the
minimum wage, increased worker protections, and required paid time off. Despite the
statewide strengthening of workers’ rights protections, the unreliable hours and unpredictable
schedules endemic in the retail industry mean these benefits become inaccessible
to many workers. In part, the retail industry relies on scheduling practices that are
not good for workers, such as forcing them to wait for their weekly schedules with only
a few days notice. These practices not only undercut workers’ hours and their expectations
thereof, but also their incomes, and can make it nearly impossible for workers to
realize full and healthy lives.
Hour Crisis: Unstable Schedules in the Los Angeles Retail Sector explores worker hours
and scheduling practices for “frontline floor” staff that include salespersons, cashiers,
stockers, and food workers in large and chain stores. We used a participatory and research
justice approach and worked with students, workers, and community partners to
collect and analyze the data. Using mixed-sampling methodology, we collected a total
of 818 surveys. In addition, we analyzed government data and conducted an extensive
review of existing policy and academic literature on the topic.
“The only way to make these programs universal, the only way to be sure that the waitress or the retail clerk has access to these programs, that every child gets the benefit of having a parent at home, that every elder has loving family surrounding them in their last days — the only way to do that is through social insurance,” said Economic Opportunity Institute Policy Director Marilyn Watkins.
In this era of hyper-partisanship, how did we pass a major new program through Washington State’s sharply divided Legislature? There was no secret formula: For nearly two decades, we prepared, organized, sought new allies and listened to skeptics. We were willing to rethink policy and incorporate new ideas. We built the power and unity that pushed the issue to center stage. When the opening came, we were ready and seized it.