Hitting the Road to Promote Paid Leave

X-7Last week, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez told the Washington Post that “so much of what becomes law in Washington starts out as an experiment in different states.”

For the next month or so, Perez will be conducting his own state-to-state experiment of sorts; one that he hopes will result in workers nationwide being afforded greater flexibility in their jobs, including the right to paid leave.

As part of the Lead on Leave—Empowering Working Families Across America tour, Perez will meet with workers, state officials and employers in a handful of cities in an effort to “promote best practices and discuss how paid leave and other flexible workplace policies can help support working families and businesses,” according to a Department of Labor statement.

Perez will have company on the coast-to-coast jaunt, which kicks off today with a stop in Seattle. Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to the White House, and Tina Tchsen, assistant to President Barack Obama, will join him on the tour, which also includes scheduled visits to Minnesota, California, Oregon, Georgia, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

Currently, just three states—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island—offer paid family and medical leave, while only California and Massachusetts require private employers to provide paid sick leave. Meanwhile, Illinois, Ohio and Virginia provide paid parental leave to state employees, while cities such as Chicago, Austin, Texas and San Francisco do the same for municipal workers.

We may be a ways off, however, from federal legislation that obliges employers to provide paid sick leave. As a recent New York Times article points out, President Obama has urged Congress to pass a bill giving U.S. workers seven days of paid sick leave. But, garnering the necessary support in that same Congress to approve such a bill would be “a tough obstacle” to surmount, the Times article notes.

Some organizations, however, aren’t waiting on government action.

The aforementioned Times piece details Microsoft’s “unusual” method of overcoming the absence of a federal policy, noting the company’s March 26 announcement that it would require many of its 2,000 contractors and vendors to offer their employees who perform work for Microsoft 15 paid days off for sick days and vacation time.

“In some ways, it’s a uniquely American solution,” the article continues. “ … The biggest and wealthiest companies are performing the role of setting workplace policy for other businesses.”

While applauding Microsoft’s approach to providing paid leave, Ruth Milkman told the Times she doesn’t foresee other corporate heavyweights following its lead.

“It’s a moral model, but I don’t think there’s a high probability it’s going to become universal through business initiatives,” said Milkman, a professor and sociologist of labor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. “The public wants this. The resistance is all from employers. The only way is through public policy.”

We’ll see if the Lead on Leave tour takes us any closer to such policy becoming reality.