White House Summit on Working Families: will it make a difference?


What happens when he gets sick? (Getty Images)

Can you imagine having to leave your sick baby and go to work? Or taking no time off after giving birth? Many working parents have no benefits like paid sick days, paid parental leave or job protection once they leave to have a baby.

These and other issues will be discussed Monday at The White House Summit on Working Families. Hosted by the White House Council on Women and Girls, the Department of Labor and the Center for American Progress, business leaders, advocates, economists and more will be there to speak and listen.

Working parents who have struggled to stay afloat after taking care of a sick child or giving birth will be there as well.

The goal of the event is to bring attention to issues like the lack of paid leave in the U.S., lack of flexibility and the lack of legislation that makes it possible for many people to take care of both their family and be productive workers at the same time.

“We want this summit to reinforce that solutions exist, that they need to include public policies as well as employer best practices to guarantee that everyone has at least a minimum amount of protection,” said Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values at Work.  “Everyday Americans… want to know that doing exactly what they should be doing to be a good parent won’t be the thing that drives them out of a job or into bankruptcy.”

That is what happened to Melissa Bravo (no relation). She had gone to school to become a nurse, found a job while still in school that was due to start the following July. She became pregnant and so when her job started, she was almost 5 months into her pregnancy. “My whole dynamic with my preceptor changed once she found out I was pregnant. She would make comments that there was no guarantee there would be a job once the baby was born.”

Bravo ended up in preterm labor and had her baby about five weeks early. Her job disappeared and she had to look for new work. Finally, about a year later, she landed a job supervising a migrant health clinic. The hours mean she misses dinner and bedtime with her children and relies on her husband for much of that. He’s a contract worker, so has a little more flexibility. But that also means he doesn’t have a steady paycheck.

“I hope to gain financial stability,” said the mother of three. “We are making a little more now that I’m working, but that’s spent just catching up on things that have accumulated over the years that have ruined our credit. It will take a lot of rebuilding.”

Kevin Burgos is the father of three and has worked at Dunkin Donuts for eight years. Before Connecticut passed a bill mandating paid sick days in 2012, he had to undergo surgery and take one week off of work. “I had to borrow money from people to make ends meet and make the rent,” he said. “It was just a week of lost pay.” After the bill passed and he got sick for one shift, “I was actually able to collect paid sick time. I wasn’t afraid because I knew I had some cash.”

He’s coming to the Summit because “it’s a great idea to just spread the word about paid sick time and how other states should inherit that bill that was passed here so that everyone can have the chance to stay home when they get sick,” he said. “I can actually take the time off instead of going to work sick, or I can pay attention to my children and care for their needs until they get better.”

Follow me Monday as I tweet my way through the event. I’m looking forward to hearing what people have to say.

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Amy Joyce is the editor and a writer for On Parenting.
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Amy Joyce · June 19