Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett will travel to several states this spring to promote paid-leave policies, showing the extent to which the Obama administration is working outside the Beltway to achieve its policy goals.
The “Lead on Leave” road show — which starts April 1 in Seattle and will also feature assistant to the president Tina Tchen and other senior officials — reprises a strategy the administration has used to galvanize support for raising the minimum wage and expanding retirement benefits.
“The president refuses for all success to be determined by how many laws get passed,” Perez said in a phone interview Tuesday, adding that he and others have studied how social-policy movements have made breakthroughs. “The history of civil rights and labor rights and women’s rights is about persistence. So much of what becomes law in Washington starts out as an experiment in different states.”
Although the president expanded parental leave for federal workers in January, a congressional proposal to annually grant Americans seven days of paid sick time stands little chance of making it through the GOP-controlled Congress. The United States is one of just a handful of countries that does not offer paid leave; congressional Republicans have introduced measures offering workplace flexibility and tax credits in some instances, but they have opposed mandating paid leave.
The push for paid leave has gathered momentum across the country, although it tends to be in Democratic-leaning states and cities. Last year, according to Emily’s List spokeswoman Marcy Stech, paid-sick-leave initiatives passed in Massachusetts, in Oakland, Calif., and in the New Jersey cities of Montclair and Trenton. The District adopted a paid-sick-leave standard in 2008 that includes “safe” days for victims of domestic violence, and Chicago recently passed a nonbinding referendum measure in support of paid leave that includes family leave.
Jarrett said the tour will kick off in Seattle because the mayor had already demonstrated that raising the city’s minimum wage, as well as enacting paid sick leave, had yielded benefits for employers and workers.
“It’s a good place to start,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday, noting that 43 million Americans “do not have a single day of sick leave. We will work tirelessly to try to make sure every single American that we can possibly cover is covered by a sick-leave policy.”
The White House will continue soliciting ideas from GOP lawmakers as well as employers and government officials, Jarrett added.
“This should not be a partisan issue. Every family struggles to balance the demands of their family with the demands of their workplace,” she said. “As a single mom myself, I know this is a challenge every family faces.”
Senior administration officials said the campaign will extend to California, Oregon, Colorado, Minnesota, Georgia and Pennsylvania, along with other spots along the Northeast corridor.
The Labor Department has provided $500,000 to state and local officials to conduct feasibility studies on paid leave and will distribute an additional $1 million in federal funding this summer. In some cases, the money has gone to states that have already adopted paid-leave policies, including Massachusetts, but in some instances to states that are still studying the issue, such as Montana.
“I’ve never seen more applications for such a small amount of money,” Perez said about the first round of grants his department distributed, adding that it demonstrated the pent-up demand for policy solutions to this question. “Federal paid leave is a ‘when’ question, not an ‘if’ question. It’s such a kitchen-table issue that keeps people up at night.”