Increasing workplace demands are threatening families, communities and health, and America's political leaders need to seriously address this critical issue. That's the message from a coalition that is launching the "Time is a Family Value" campaign, urging candidates in the 2004 Presidential election and all other candidates for public office to put their family values policies where their mouths are. Organizers say polling research shows that the issue of overwork and time-strapped families has rocketed to the top of the agenda for critical swing voters.
The "It's About Time Coalition," which brings together organizations including working mothers and work-life balance and paid-leave advocates, has issued a call for a "time to care agenda" to ease the vise grip working families are caught in-between spiraling work hours and vanishing paid leave. We are proposing long-overdue protections for Americans drowning in the working trenches, including paid childbirth leave, paid vacations, paid sick leave and limits on mandatory overtime.
"We ask that this agenda, and specific legislation based on these proposals, be included in the 2005-2006 session of Congress," says Tracy Geraghty, a Napa, California, mother of two children and a leader in the coalition.
Protections are needed in a workplace where outsourcing, downsizing, and a volatile economy have created a race to the bottom, which has resulted in shrinking sick leave, vacation leave, and increasing numbers of all-hours salaried employees. These wrenching changes in the way America works are creating havoc at all levels of our society and must be addressed by the presidential candidates and the Congress.
One working mother put it this way in an email posting to Work to Live, one of the coalition members: "I get no sick time, vacation pay, or paid days off. I also get no insurance benefits. I know my kids always ask why we can't go anywhere or do anything. I would love to have a vacation. I haven't had one in 2 years and counting now. It's a cycle that needs to end. HELP US!!!"
"It's long past time to address the increasing pressures Americans face in balancing work-time demands and the time required to adequately care for their families, communities and health," says Ann Crittenden, founder of Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights, and author of The Price of Motherhood. "Americans just don't have time to care and it's hurting all of us."
"There's no time to rest anymore in our rush-rush, workaholic society," adds Joe Robinson, of the Work to Live campaign (www.worktolive.info/). "Summer is over and many Americans got no vacation time at all. We'd all be better off and more productive too, if our right to some time off was recognized by law."
"This is the unacknowledged elephant in America's closet," says Gretchen Burger, national staffperson of the Take Back Your Time campaign, another coalition member. "Neither political party has addressed the issue of overwork and time poverty in any serious way."
"President Bush has spoken of the need for more family time," argues Judith Stadtman Tucker, former advocacy director for the Mothers and More organization, and now editor of the online journal MothersMovement.org (www.mothersmovement.org) "But his only proposal, substituting comp time for overtime pay, actually offers employers incentives to require more overtime work, not less. We need legislation that really does give families more relief from overwork."
According to Take Back Your Time national coordinator John de Graaf, "Every other industrial country takes the need for time to care seriously. Our Canadian neighbors just passed a law guaranteeing a year of paid parental leave at partial pay when children are born. Europeans are working nine full weeks less each year than Americans do. It's time for America to catch up with the rest of the world."
THE CALL FOR A "TIME TO CARE" AGENDA
Last year, we applauded as the U. S. Senate declared October "National Work and Family Month," and called for discussion and action to improve the balance between work and family time in America. But nearly a year later, Americans continue to suffer from increasing conflicts between longer working hours and the time we need to build strong families, to exercise and take better care of our health, to volunteer in our communities, to get adequate rest, to pursue religious and spiritual concerns, to take good care of the environment, to be informed participants in civic life or even to vote. American political leaders speak often about "family values," but seldom address the most fundamental family value of all. Time is a family value, without which families crumble.
When families can't get a quorum for dinner, because one or both parents are working long into the night, it's not video games that are to blame when kids have problems. Studies show that parents who work long hours are more susceptible to divorce, and many of the children of those marriages wind up in poverty.
The crushing demands of a workplace out of control have long been a private anguish of quiet desperation. But that's not true anymore. Pollsters now suggest that surveys and focus groups find that "lack of free time" is one of the most significant concerns of so-called "swing voters" in the coming election, many of whom are mothers with young children. This is no surprise to us. The U.S. has the longest working hours in the industrial world. The average European puts in nine fewer weeks on the job each year than Americans do. While the Chinese have a mandated three weeks of paid leave, Australians four, and Europeans 4 to 5 weeks, the U.S. has no minimum paid leave law.
American public policies protecting our family and personal time fall far short of those in other countries. A recent study released by the Harvard School of Public Health, covering 168 of the world's nations (www.globalworkingfamilies.org), concluded that "the United States lags dramatically behind all high-income countries, as well as many middle- and low-income countries when it comes to public policies designed to guarantee adequate working conditions for families." The study found that:
- * 163 of 168 countries guarantee paid leave for mothers in connection with childbirth. 45 countries offer such leave to fathers. The U.S. does neither.
* 139 countries guarantee paid sick leave. The U.S. does not.
* 96 countries guarantee paid annual (vacation) leave. The U.S. does not.
* 84 countries have laws that fix a maximum limit on the workweek. The U.S. does not.
* 37 countries guarantee parents paid time off when children are sick. The U.S. does not.
America can do better. We believe there is no compelling reason for the world's richest country to lag so far behind in so many areas when it comes to work/life balance. It is time for the United States to join all other industrial nations in guaranteeing that our nation's tremendous productivity be used to allow Americans freedom from overwork, stress and burnout. Such stress relief will make Americans happier and healthier, and reduce the pressures on our health care system, lowering costs for all. It will also make us more productive. Studies show that job performance goes up after breaks and vacations. A healthier workplace will save money for American business, too, which loses $300 billion a year in job stress-related costs.
We should take immediate steps to implement the following "time to care" agenda:
- * Guaranteeing at least six weeks of paid childbirth leave for all parents. Today, only 40% of Americans are able to take advantage of the 12 weeks of unpaid leave provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.
* Guaranteeing at least one week of paid sick leave for all workers. Many Americans work while sick, lowering productivity and endangering other workers.
* Guaranteeing at least three weeks of paid annual vacation leave for all workers. Studies show that 28% of all female employees and 37% of women earning less than $40,000 a year receive no paid vacation at all.
* Placing a limit on the amount of compulsory overtime work that an employer can impose, with our goal being to give employees the right to accept or refuse overtime work.
* Making Election Day a holiday, with the understanding that Americans need time for civic and political participation.
* Making it easier for Americans to choose part-time work. Hourly wage parity and protection of promotions and pro-rated benefits for part-time workers.
We can demonstrate that companies which have adequate paid leave policies can increase their productivity, morale and profits, as a result. Other countries, far poorer than our own, are able to provide these protections.
We call on our leaders to draft specific and detailed legislation providing American workers what their counterparts in all other industrial nations take for granted, and reduce the burden on small businesses through tax credits and incentives, and fair and progressive taxation.
The time has come for real dialogue about these issues, ignored for too long. Working Americans and their families are imploding from a 24/7 workplace with no boundaries. We are tired in America, dead tired. We want time to care for our children, our families, our communities, our religious and spiritual lives, and ourselves. We call upon our leaders to recognize the need for time to enjoy the fruits of our labor, and to create public policies protecting our right to have a life.
America can do better.
We are not against work; meaningful work is essential to the good life. But we need to work more wisely to taste that life, as part of the pursuit of happiness that is one of our inalienable right as citizens. We want to work to live, not live to work. We need time to care.
The following organizations have endorsed this Time to Care Agenda:
MOTHERS (Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights)