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Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) member Gayle E. Troy, SPHR, spoke before a Senate committee roundtable May 20, 2014 on the “Economic Security for Working Women.”
Troy, HR manager at New Hampshire-based Globe Manufacturing Co., LLC, was part of an eight-member panel appearing before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee chaired by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
“Too many working women,” Harkin stated, “are stuck in poor-quality, low-wage jobs, living in or near poverty, struggling to make ends meet.”
He noted that even though women make up a large portion of the U.S. workforce, they continue to be the primary caregivers for young and old, “yet our workplaces have not kept up with the changing times and most women do not have access to the supports they need to be successful workers and caregivers.”
The committee’s wide-ranging discussion included pregnancy discrimination, unemployment, job creation, the minimum wage, the Family Medical Leave Act, paid sick days and time off, erratic “just-in-time” work schedules, and flexible work arrangements.
Troy told the committee that the fourth-generation, family-owned company where she has worked for 28 years supports its workers with a flexible-hours program. That has contributed, she thinks, to the 93 percent retention rate at the world’s largest manufacturer of firefighters’ protective clothing.
Seventy-one percent of the 424 people the company employs are women, and most of its nonexempt employees have the option—with their supervisor’s approval—of working 6 a.m.-2:30 p.m. or 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Nearly 80 percent choose the earlier shift, she noted.
“I believe many employees choose this shift to maximize time with their families,” Troy said in a prepared statement that also cited the 2014 National Study of Employers from SHRM and the Families and Work Institute, SHRM’s recommendations for a 21st century workplace flexibility policy, and her employer’s challenges dealing with the FMLA.
She also pointed to her employer’s Globe Time Off (GTO), a benefit created in response to high turnover rates that were especially prevalent among new employees.
“Because life cannot always be divided between sick days and vacation buckets,” nonexempt employees receive 12 days off annually through GTO to be used for any purpose—as a vacation day, to care for a sick child, run errands, take the dog to the vet—she told committee members.
Six days are paid and six are unpaid. Any unused paid time off is returned to the employee in the form of an end-of-year bonus. Additionally, Globe offers 10-20 vacation days, 10 paid holidays, and paid leave for situations such as jury duty and volunteer firefighter calls.
However, she cautioned the committee that the pending Healthy Families Act (HFA) raises employer concerns “and could curtail flexibility.”
The HFA would require public and private employers with 15 or more employees to provide 56 hours—the equivalent of seven days—of annual paid sick leave; those working 20 or more calendar workweeks would be eligible. That could lead, Troy suggested, to employers cutting back or eliminating benefits.
“We have issues with the idea of just calling it sick time, because sick time means you have to be sick,” she said. “We’re not going to have 20 days of vacation, plus 12 days of GTO plus add seven sick [days] plus jury duty plus military [time off]. We’re not going to add seven more [days]; we’re going to revamp our GTO time to say ‘ok, now it’s sick time.’ That’s going to hurt some employees--it’s going to hurt some women employees who have other things to do that have nothing to do with ‘sick’ but they need the time off.”
She urged the senators to “think about the unintended consequences.”
Panelist Ellen Bravo, executive director of the Wisconsin-based Family values at Work, lauded Globe’s worker benefits and pointed out that, as written, Globe would comply with the HFA. Sick time could be used to tend to a sick child, for example.
Concerned employers, though, may not have to worry. The bill (S.631), which Harkin introduced March 20, 2013, has only a 14 percent chance of making it out of committee and to the Democrat-controlled Senate for a vote, according to GovTrack, which tracks the progress and prognosis of proposed U.S. legislation. The legislation has a 2 percent chance of being enacted.
Panelist Armanda Legros of Queens, N.Y., spoke movingly about the discrimination she encountered when she was pregnant, resulting in being fired from the armored truck company where she had worked for two years.
When she was 6 1/2 months pregnant, she pulled a stomach muscle doing some heavy lifting at work and had to miss the rest of the work week. Despite a note from her doctor to avoid heavy lifting, her manager sent her home—indefinitely, without pay—telling her it was company policy that she couldn’t work until she could do so with no restrictions.
“I knew this wasn’t true; they had accommodated my co-worker who had injured his back on the job,” she said. Two months later her health insurance was cut off, she couldn’t afford COBRA payments and she had to apply for Medicaid and food stamps.
“Having a child shouldn’t mean losing your job. It should not lead to fear and financial dire straits,” she told the committee. Putting food on the table for her baby and 4-year-old child was a challenge. “I was forced to use water in [my son’s] cereal at times because I could not afford milk.”
Legros found a full-time and part-time job; she continues to work part time, with no benefits, after being laid off from her primary job.
“I implore you,” Legros said to committee members, “to stand up for women like me so we have an equal shot in the workplace.”
Other panelists were:
Neera Tanden, president, Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.
Amy Traub, senior policy analysis, Demos, Washington, D.C.
Fatima Goss-Graves, vice president for education and employment, National Women’s Law Center, Washington, D.C.
Lori Pelletier, executive secretary-treasurer, Connecticut State Federation of Labor, Rocky Hill, Conn.
Rhea Lana Riner, president, Rhea Lana’s Inc., Conway, Ark.
Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News.
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