In the News

This Mother’s Day Upgrade California from an A- to an A+

California Work & Family Coalition, May 11, 2012

By Vibhuti Mehra, Labor Project for Working Families

With Mother's Day around the corner, there has been a lot of buzz in the news and on social media networks about the status of mothers in the United States and what can be done to support moms and working families.  While most reports show our nation to be dismally behind in protecting the health and economic well-being of pregnant or new and nursing mothers, we have some reason to celebrate in California. A recent state-by-state analysis finds that California is leading nearly all other states in the country because of its policies to support working parents.

The report, Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws that Help New Parents, released this week by the National Partnership for Women & Families is the most comprehensive analysis to date of state laws and regulations governing paid leave and workplace rights for new parents in the US. Eighteen states received grades of "F". Most states fall somewhere in between; they are doing something to expand upon minimal federal protections for new parents, but not enough. California was one of just two states to earn a grade of "A-" for providing important protections to new parents beyond minimal federal standards. No state received a higher grade.

In California, women make up 46 percent of the workforce and 65 percent of California children live in families where all parents work. More than 508,000 California women gave birth in the 2009-2010 year alone (the most recent data available).

In 2002, concerted efforts of community groups and unions in the California Work & Family Coalition led to the successful passage of the nation's first-ever paid family leave (PFL) insurance program, helping to ensure income for workers and families when a new child arrives or a seriously ill family member needs care. The Coalition's efforts also led to the successful passage of a new California law (SB 299) to ensure continued health care coverage for workers on pregnancy or childbirth-related leave. The law came into effect in January 2012 and it requires California employers to continue to provide health coverage for women on maternity leave.

We have done well in California, but we can and need to do better. Our working families need the ability to care for their family members without jeopardizing their economic security and their jobs.

Studies show that paid leave promotes the health and economic security of families, reduces reliance on public assistance programs, and benefits businesses through improved worker loyalty and reduced turnover.  We are proud of our PFL program and celebrate its success. But we have a long way to go in ensuring that family leave is accessible and affordable for all family caregivers.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), enacted nearly 20 years ago, provides new parents up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but only about half of the workforce is eligible and many cannot afford to take the unpaid leave it provides. We need to ensure that our laws are inclusive and reflect what our families really look like. The Coalition is currently working on a bill that would expand leave to include more family caregivers (AB 2039). We also need to make our workplaces free of discrimination against workers with family caregiving responsibilities. The Coalition is advocating for AB 1999 to ensure that.

Most importantly, we need to make our voices heard. So, this Mother's  Day, let's tell California Governor Jerry Brown that we expect better.

We're delivering California's report card to Governor Brown. Make sure he hears – loud and clear – that you support policies that help new and expecting parents. Add your name to the report card now.

Vibhuti Mehra is the Communications & Development Director at the Labor Project for Working Families.


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