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Philadelphia CLUW Panel of Parental Leave


by John Mason

A panel discussion on maternity/paternity leave for caregivers took place at a benefit meeting of the Philadelphia chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), held at the headquarters of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, 22 South 22nd Street, on Monday, January 25, 2010.

The event was to raise funds and supplies for Women Against Abuse, a homeless shelter for women and children, staffed by members of the United Auto Workers. Contributions needed for the shelter included such items as bed linens, towels, diapers, car seats, and stationary supplies.

Kathy Black, President of the Philadelphia CLUW chapter, said that the evening’sprogram was created by the chapter’s Young Women’s Committee, chaired by April Logan; “They put together a nice group of speakers,” Black said, “ and they’ve been working on this for some months,” and she commended Logan’s “commitment and excellent work (in) keeping the committee focused, growing, and engaged.” Logan served as moderator for the panel discussion.

Logan pointed out studies that have shown, with the current economic troubles, “that more and more women are becoming the sole or head breadwinner in the family. In fact…they’re surpassing men.” However, added Logan, “women are frequently in part- time jobs, or they’re full-time jobs, but still they tend to make less money than men, about eighty-cents to the dollar that men make.” The challenge, she went on, “to try to fulfill that role of being the breadwinner of the family. In this context, the issue of maternity/paternity leave becomes especially important, because I always thought it a little odd that just when your family financial responsibilities are about to increase, you have to take unpaid leave because you have some caretaker responsibilities (for children).”

Beginning the panel discussion was Amal Bass, of the Women’s Law Project, a public-interest organization dedicated to women’s equality. Bass spoke about federal and state laws on parental leave. “I wish I could say,” she said, “that the law provides more than it does.” On the federal level, she said, “there are two main laws that really apply to parental leave. First is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the other is Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. FMLA is usually what people think about when they think about parental leave in the United States.” FMLA, said Bass, was enacted in the early 1990s’, and “it provides certain employees with up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave. It only applies to certain employers, you have to employ fifty or more employees, and (it covers) certain employees of that employer, people who have worked there for a year, people who have worked a certain number of hours

“So there are a lot of people,” said Bass, “this law doesn’t apply to at all, and it only gives you unpaid leave. The employer has to maintain your health benefits during that time, but if you pay for a certain portion of your health benefits, then you might not actually be able to afford to that.” FMLA, added Bass, “it guarantees job restoration, so at the end of your unpaid leave, your employer has to put you in the same position or an equivalent position.”

Next was Rona Kaufman Kitchen, Abraham L. Freedman Teaching Fellow of the Beasley School of Lay of Temple University. Kitchen spoke about parental leave policies in other countries. Kitchen spoke of “twenty-one countries, that are comparable to the US in that they’re high-income economies.” The countries included France, Germany, Spain, Norway, Austria, Ireland, Italy Greece, Japan, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark, Finland Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Switzerland; “Of those countries,” said Kitchen, “the best (parental) leave is at up to six years, so that’s six years of (unpaid) job protected leave…The worst is fourteen weeks.” The highest at six years, she added, was in France and Spain, and the lowest at fourteen weeks is in Switzerland, “but is Switzerland, there’s eighty percent pay for those fourteen weeks

“Among the other countries,” said Kitchen, “there’s up to two years of job protected leave, which is in Germany, Sweden, Norway, and Austria, over one year of job protected leave in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Japan and New Zealand, one full year in Australia, Canada, and Denmark, and in the remaining countries there are six months of leave in four of them, Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Portugal, and finally less than six months of job protected leave in the US and Switzerland.” Kitchen added that job protected parental leave, in advanced countries outside the US, “very much is the norm.”

Also on the panel were Alaine S. Williams, an attorney for the Labor law firm Willig, Williams, and Davidson, who discussed court cases related to parental leave; and Joyce Lindorff, Vice-President of TAUP/AFT Local 4531 and member of the Philadelphia CLUW board, who discussed recent language in the contract with Temple University on parental leave.

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