Tuesday, September 25, 2007

It's Time to Value Families at Work

What do you do when school says you must show up to register your kids, and work says you must stay overtime for an extra shift?

If you’re like Vickie Underwood, in DeKalb County, Georgia, you choose your kids.

Underwood told her boss she was sorry but, unlike all the other times she did stay overtime, she couldn’t that day. She figured two decades with an unblemished work record would show her commitment to the job.

Her boss disagreed. Underwood was fired for violating the mandatory overtime policy.

We hear a lot of talk about freedoms in the U.S. Apparently the freedom to refuse mandatory overtime isn’t one of them.

Neither is the freedom to care for a sick family member. Just ask Monique Evans. When she called her supervisor at a Wendy’s in Portland, Maine, to explain that her two-year-old had the flu, the supervisor told her to come in anyway. When Evans refused, the supervisor cut her hours from 40 per week to 15 and demoted her to mopping floors and cleaning toilets.

This is the time of year when schools require children to be vaccinated. Keeping kids free of preventable diseases boosts learning and general child well-being.

But many parents – most of them low wage workers who can’t afford to risk their jobs -- can’t take the day off to get the children immunized.

The truth is, for millions of workers in this country, being a good family member can mean risking job, paycheck, or peace of mind. And being a responsible employee can put your family or relationship at risk.

Vickie Underwood and Monique Evans are among the many whose stories are told in a new report entitled, “Family Values at Work: It’s About Time! Why We Need Minimum Standards to Ensure a Family-Friendly Workplace.” The report was published by a network of state coalitions known as the MultiState Working Families Consortium.

With photos and stories, this report puts faces to the statistics, detailing what it means when family values end at the workplace door. It also summarizes mounds of research that tell us that policies like paid sick days and family leave insurance aren’t just the moral thing to do, aren’t just good for workers and their families – they’re good for business and taxpayers as well.

Consider this factoid, for instance: Replacing a salaried worker costs on average one and a half times more than the fired worker was earning annually. What about someone making $8 an hour? Even these low-wage workers cost an employer an average of $5,506 apiece to replace.

Political candidates, pay attention. “Family Values at Work” describes the growing movement to win time to care, and announces new polling data showing that voters want such policies. Nearly nine in ten voters support paid sick days – and that’s across demographics and party lines. Similarly, more than three in four support family leave insurance plans.

Most important, this document makes the case for government action as the only way to protect workers like Vickie and Monique. The right-wing keeps trying to tell us that our problem is big government. But “Family Values at Work” reminds us that a proper role of government is creating minimum standards for how we conduct ourselves as a nation.

Every so often, we say, enough – something we put up with for a long time, like slavery or child labor or discrimination against racial groups or women, suddenly seems barbaric.

It’s about time we said that about forcing people like Vickie Underwood and Monique Evans to risk their loved ones or their livelihoods.

You can read “Family Values at Work” on 9to5’s website, www.9to5.org.