Monday, March 30, 2009

For Work-Family Flexibility, the Time is Now

By Linda Meric

In the workplace of the future, the words "work" and "family" will be connected by more than the obligatory hyphen.

In the workplace of the future, workers who are sick will have paid sick days so they can stay home for a day or two and take care of themselves - without fearing they will lose a day's pay, or worse, their jobs.

In the workplace of the future, working parents won't have to miss their child's big part in the school play or forfeit the chance for an important parent-teacher conference -- they'll have parental leave that will allow them to both do their jobs AND be good parents by being involved in their children's school activities.

In the workplace of the future, more workers will be able to utilize the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act for more reasons - and it will be affordable for them.

In the future, work-family flexibility will be more than something that we're working toward - it will be a reality.

Why is it important? Consider the case of Sherry Johnson, a Milwaukee grandmother and career data entry operator. Sherry began to have problems with her eyes and her doctor recommended eye surgery. She informed her employer, underwent the surgery, and let her employer know that she would have to take time to recover. After the recovery period, she called her employer again to inform them that she was ready to return to work. But rather than welcoming her back, she was fired. Her supervisor said it was because she took the time off for the surgery. Sherry tells her story (view it online here) because she wants her grandchildren to grow up in a future world where families are truly respected and all people are treated with dignity.

What happened to her is appalling. Even more appalling are these statistics: more than 57 million workers do not have a single paid sick day in which to take care of themselves in times of illness and more than 100 million workers don't have a paid sick day in which they can stay home and care for a sick child. Those least likely to have paid sick days are those who can least afford to lose their jobs: working women who head households and struggle mightily to make the dual demands of work and home work for both their employers and their families.

But pushing toward a future where flexible work-family policy is more than just a dream is about more than economic justice for women and their families. It's also a matter of public health, because child care, nursing home, restaurant and other workers who must go to work sick can make the rest of us sick. It's also a business issue because research has shown that those workplaces that offer flexibility to their workers are more profitable and have employees who are more productive. For all those reasons, paid sick days must be among the key policies that set the tone for the workplace of the future.

What are we doing to build a future of economic justice?

Paid sick days policies have already been enacted in San Francisco and the District of Columbia. And, this past November, the Milwaukee Chapter of 9to5, National Association of Working Women led the campaign that won paid sick days for every worker in the city of Milwaukee. Nearly 70 percent of the voters said "yes" to the paid sick days referendum but now the business community has decided to fight the voice of the people. Now, we'll have to wait ‘til at least May for a judge to uphold the voice of the people and the democratic process. We are confident that the paid sick days vote will stand.

The broad coalition that joined with 9to5 to win paid sick days has recommitted to the ideals of the workplace of the future. Activists in North Carolina, Massachusetts and California continue to fight toward a future where every worker has the right to take care of themselves and their families without jeopardizing their jobs. 9to5 members across the country are sharing their personal experiences through letters and meetings with elected officials and the media, speaking to other groups, and participating in local coalition activities that push toward a future reality. The Healthy Families Act, federal legislation that would guarantee that every worker has paid sick days, is on the table and more important than ever. Contact your US Senators NOW and urge them to support the HFA.

How long will we wait for a future with work-family flexibility?

We who believe in economic justice believe the time is NOW. To join with us, call our the 9to5 Helpline at 1-800-522-0925, email us at, or visit our website, for more ideas.

Meric is Executive Director, 9to5, National Association of Working Women

This blog post was originally seen on as part of fem2.0's blog carnival about women and work. View the original entry here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Raising awareness of this issue is so important. Thank, 9to5, for spreading the word!