Fighting For True “Workplace Advancement” in the Trump Era

Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) claims that her “Workplace Advancement Act” and the “Strong Families Act” would “empower Americans to effectively negotiate wages and provide flexibility for the many families juggling responsibilities at home and at work.” According to experts on workplace policy, however, both bills fall far short of what is needed to actually help working women and their families.

Senate Democrats / Creative Commons

“You can dress something up with a nice title and some good soundbites,” Vivien Labaton, co-founder and co-director of Make it Work, told Ms., “but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s abysmal policy.”

The U.S. lags pitifully behind in the world on equal pay and paid leave policies. The 1963 Fair Pay Act has broad loopholes and weak remedies, while the 1993 federal Family Medical Leave Act offers only unpaid leave, which many women can’t afford to take, and doesn’t even cover 40% of American workers. As a result, the U.S. still has a large wage gap, especially for mothers. Our gender wage gap is greater than many industrialized countries and the U.S. is one of only two countries in the entire world without a national paid parental leave policy.

Senator Fischer’s bills would do little to address either of these problems.

The Workplace Advancement Act prohibits employer retaliation against employees who discuss salary information with their coworkers, but only for the explicit purpose of determining whether the employer provides equal pay for equal work.

“If Senator Fischer and the Trump administration were serious about fair pay,” Labaton said, “their actions would look very, very different.” For instance, this legislation may look more like the Paycheck Fairness Act, last introduced by Senator Barbara Milkulski (D-MD) in 2014, which would close a major loophole in the Equal Pay Act by requiring that employers prove that wage discrepancies are tied to legitimate business qualifications and not gender. The Act would also provide better remedies for unfair pay, facilitate class action equal pay lawsuits against employers, and require the EEOC to collect from employers pay information data regarding the sex, race, and national origin of employees for use in the enforcement of federal laws prohibiting pay discrimination. Senator Fischer’s bill does none of these things.

Fischer’s paid leave bill also does little to help working families. The proposal would give tax credits to employers who provide at least 2 weeks of paid leave to full-time employees. But there is no evidence that tax credits spur employer action on this issue and two weeks is woefully inadequate for new parents.

“Even conservatives acknowledge that the problem with tax credits is that it subsidizes those who would be doing it anyway, therefore it doesn’t get to those who would need it most…people who are low wage and part time,” says Ellen Bravo, one of the foremost experts on paid leave in the country and co-executive director of Family Values @ Work, a network of coalitions in 24 states working to pass family-friendly workplace policies.

A much better alternative for paid parental leave was introduced last week by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT): the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. Through pooling small contributions from employers and employees similar to workers compensation plans, this Act would expand the Family Medical Leave Act by providing employees 12 weeks of paid leave at 66 percent of their average monthly wage to care for a new child through birth, adoption or foster care, or to tend to a personal or family member’s illness.

This approach has worked successfully in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island for some time, and New York and Washington D.C. recently adopted similar laws. A nationwide social insurance program covering family leave is “good for families but it’s also good for business,” says Bravo, citing a recent Boston Consulting Group study on why paid family leave is good for business.

“For all of our talk about family values, if as a country we actually valued families, then we would pass a national paid family and medical leave program like the FAMILY Act, not one that rewards employers for providing a paltry 2 weeks of leave,” said Labaton. “Just because you slap the name ‘strong families’ on a bill doesn’t mean that you actually care about families.”


Carrie Baker is associate professor of the study of women and gender at Smith College. 

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  1. Jonathan Wallace says:

    Women are severely disadvantaged by the American political system and the fact that their problems are not truly taken serious by many Americans. This bill is the true definition of the phrase that ‘all that glitters is not gold’. Everything about the titles of these bills makes it look as if the authors seriously cared about solving the women’s issues that existed in America. The fact that we are supposed to be the world’s greatest nation and we are lagging so far behind in leave for families is unacceptable. We should be on the forefront of making the standard for fair treatment of women. Mothers should not have to suffer such a staunchly egregious wage gap disparity because the womb because they have to care for our nation’s future. I believe we should be looking into programs like the one suggested by Senator Gillibrand that encourage actual strong family values in which women are paid at a lower rate but throughout the leave time. If we say that we care about women’s rights then we have to act as if we truly do.
    I believe this is a microcosm of a larger problem with America’s political’s system. Many of the lawmakers are only looking out for what their party wants and are not concerned with the constituents of whom they are supposed to be serving. This partisan form of government that we have formed is directly hurting people, especially women and minorities. They are also only concerned with the lobbyists which provide money for their campaigns; that is the only explanation for the Workplace Advancement Act. The law stops people from defending their rights to get paid equally. If we truly want women, to have equal opportunities in workplaces, then why are we putting limitations on their abilities to defend their rights. All of this selfish behavior is what is keeping us from being a country that advances to its full potential.

  2. U. Taylor says:

    In response to the article from Ms. Magazine “Fighting for true Workplace Advancement in the trump era”. It’s clear that the United States which is supposedly the best country in the world, with the greatest opportunities. When it comes to the working mother the opportunities appear to be not so great in comparison to other countries. One would think that this country should be able to provide a solution that could provide mothers the opportunity to take a paid leave from work so they may care for their new babies. I would think that it’s important to stress in the country the need to have strong family values. Those strong family values should entail the importance of a mother recuperating from labor and being able to care and nurture her new baby. There’s plenty things the new mother need to establish within the twelve weeks, which will go by extremely fast. Within this time the mother need to secure proper child care arrangements for her baby, help to get her new baby on a feeding and sleeping routine, complete physicals for both baby and mother. With all of this happening a mother should not have to worry on top of everything else, worrying on how she will eat and pay her bills for the next twelve weeks or however long she may need. Not all women are ready to come back to work within a twelve-week window some may need more time than others. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act sounds like it would be a very good alternative to what most working women experience now which is nothing. In some states, women may be able to receive subsidies from their area public assistance or snap programs which may qualify them for the food stamp program and or small increments of cash but these are extreme last resorts. Working mothers honestly should not have to subject themselves to those extremes and they wouldn’t have to do so, if employers will offer some type of financial benefits that could help assistance women in their time of need.

  3. Rebecca W. says:

    This article highlights the fact that we are in the year 2017 and women are still fighting for equality. The United States doesn’t have any bills that fully support women who are pregnant that will receive 100% paid leave. it is dishearten to know that although we are very advanced in many things simple protection and support for women who want to start a family isn’t fully supported. The fact that a woman would have to choose between bonding with her newborn or keeping her job to support this newborn is absurd. I have currently been working at a billion-dollar cooperation and we only just last week received an email stating that effective May 1st parents who are expecting a child are eligible to receive up to 12 weeks paid time off. The government should place bills that aren’t vague on parents expecting children, they should support them fully because these children that are being born are the future workforce and a healthy integration into this world is essential in their success. I believe that forcing an expectant parent back to work for the benefit of the company will lower the morale of the company, thus increasing turnover rate and resulting in poor work-life balance. In addition to inequalities at work women are also expectant to do most of the household labor while making less money than out counterparts, which has a major impact on women in the workforce as we have to work twice as hard while caring for our home life also. In “Women Across Cultures,” it states how, “The relative resources perspective emphasizes that the division of house- hold labor reflects the relative economic power of women and men; whoever has more resources is able to better avoid household labor (Bianchi et al., 2000).” This second shift results in women reducing their standards and buying things out of the convenience of less work like prepared dinners which sometimes isn’t the healthiest option.

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