White House Convenes Summit on Working Families

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the White House Summit on Working Families in Washington, DC. (Photo: WhiteHouse.gov)

A workplace that provides flexibility and practices that benefit working families not only makes for a better workplace, but it also increases productivity and reduces turnover, said President Obama at a recent White House Summit on Working Families in Washington, DC.

The IAM took part in the day-long gathering of White House, labor, community and business leaders to discuss the issues plaguing many working families: low wages, unpaid sick leave, unpaid family leave, the lack of affordable childcare and the responsibility of caring for aging parents.

“These are just a few of the challenges that working families face,” said President Obama. “They are doing everything right. They’re working hard, they’re living responsibly, they’re taking care of their children, they’re participating in their community. Yet, at the end of the day it doesn’t feel like they’re getting ahead and all too often it feels like they’re slipping behind.”

“Part of the purpose of this summit is to make clear, you are not alone,” continued the president. “These problems are not typically the results of poor planning, or too little diligence on the parts of moms or dads, and they cannot just be fixed by working harder or being a better parent. All too often they are the result of outdated policies and old ways of thinking. Family leave, childcare, workplace flexibility, a decent wage – these are not frills. They are basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses. They should be part of our bottomline as society.”

The president pointed out that many workplaces have not kept up with the needs of 21st century workers and their families – a workforce where women make up nearly half of all workers and are increasingly the household breadwinners, though many of them are disproportionately working lower-wage jobs.

When it comes to workplace flexibility, the U.S. trails other advanced countries like China, India and Brazil. The U.S. is also the only developed country that does not have mandatory paid parental leave.

“Many women can’t even get a paid day off to give birth,” said Obama. “Now that’s a pretty low bar. You would think that we should be able to take care of that.”

We can, says IAM International General Vice President Diane Babineaux. The solution to many of these problems plaguing women and working families in general she says, is unions.

“Collective bargaining,” said Babineaux. “The age-old notion that if workers come together as one to fight for fairness, equality and basic necessities such as a livable wage, benefits, leave, hours and a safe workplace, then together everyone achieves more. That’s the answer to creating a 21st century, pro-working family workplace. It’s also a solution that doesn’t require folks sit around and wait on Congress. Workers can take action to join a union today.”

Research shows that both employees and employers benefit when workers are paid higher wages, receive benefits and are better trained. Costco pays its union employees about 40 percent more than its competitors. It’s employees, in turn, sell $986 per square foot, as compared to $588 per square foot at their largest competitor.

Additionally, a survey of 253 employers affected by California’s paid leave program, which offers almost all private sector workers up to six weeks of paid leave, found that over 90 percent of employers reported either a positive effect on profitability, turnover, and morale or reported no noticeable impact at all.

“The strength of our economy rests on whether we’re getting the most out of our nation’s talent; whether we’re making it possible for every citizen to contribute to our growth and prosperity,” said President Obama who called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and enact other worker-friendly initiatives. “Right now too many folks are on the sidelines.”

The president was joined by Vice President Joe Biden, his wife Jill and First Lady Michelle Obama. Other speakers included Department of Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

For more on the White House Summit on Working Families, visit www.workingfamiliessummit.org.

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