by Ellen Bravo
My favorite Mother’s day gifts from my sons were their original stories, songs and poems. But what I needed when they were infants and toddlers was something children can’t deliver: affordable time off when they were born and when they were sick.
So for all those candidates and elected officials interested in the women’s vote and eager to prove their support for motherhood and families, here’s a sampling of what mothers want and need, not just one day a year but every day:
The right to care for a sick child or personal illness without losing our paychecks or our jobs. Moms need leaders to actively support the right for workers to earn paid sick days and champion local, state and federal policies that would guarantee this protection. Make sure no one has to choose between being a good parent and being a good employee — and that no one has to serve you flu with your soup.
The right to coverage under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Half of private sector workforce employees aren’t covered by this law because they work for an employer with fewer than 50 workers, haven’t been on the job for at least 12 months or work less than 25 hours a week. Moms need Members of Congress to work to expand FMLA to cover all employees after 90 days of employment.
The ability to afford leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Many who are covered under FMLA can’t afford to take the time without pay. As a result, nearly 3 million eligible workers a year who need leave to care for their health or the health of a loved one don’t take it, according to a 2000 Labor Department survey. And nearly 9 percent of those who do (including 20 percent for low-income families) are forced to rely on public assistance to keep food on the table, according to a 1995 Department of Labor report. Moms need leaders to voice their support for policies to create family leave insurance funds like those that are working in California and New Jersey so that caring for a new or seriously ill child doesn’t trigger financial catastrophe.
The right to care for one’s partner regardless of their gender. Being able to marry who you love — and being able to care for one another in sickness as well as in health — shouldn’t be a gift, it should be a right. Moms are glad to see more of our leaders standing up for the rights of all families by supporting marriage equality legislation and bills to expand FMLA access to same-sex partners.
The right to attend children’s school activities. Far too many children in this country never see their mom at a school play or sporting event because employers won’t let them take off work or rearrange their schedules. Mothers need leaders to support the right to use family leave to do what’s best for raising our children.
A recognition that men are parents, have parents and also need time to care. All the policies listed above are gender-neutral. Moms — and dads — need leaders to end on-the-job punishment of men who want to be good fathers, sons and husbands. That will also boost women’s efforts to get men to share the work at home.
This list flows from deeply held American values: that no one should have to risk a job to be a good family member or put a loved one at risk in order to keep a job. Mothers want basic standards that guarantee these rights to everyone.
And candidates, if you don’t believe me, check the polls. More and more voters — from all political perspectives — say they’re more likely to support candidates who’ll make sure family values don’t end at the workplace door, and who understand that for the economy to recover, we need policies like these to help people stay employed and have money to spend at local businesses.
Doing the politically smart thing for moms is also doing the right thing for families and for our nation.
Ellen Bravo directs Family Values @ Work, a network of state coalitions organizing to win paid sick days and paid family leave. The former director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, Ellen also teaches Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her most recent book is “Taking on the Big Boys, or Why Feminism is Good for Families, Business and the Nation” (Feminist Press, 2007).