U.S. Department of Labor Addresses Workplace Flexibility at Pasadena Conference

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Labor came to Pasadena for its 2nd National Women's Bureau conference on workplace flexibility, focusing in particular on dilemmas facing hourly workers. More than 400 participants from business, labor, government and the community were in attendance at the conference, which highlighted successful labor-management agreements where individual unions and coalitions of unions have negotiated workplace flexibility policies into their contracts.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis opened the conference by addressing the changes in our workplace and the need for flexibility:

The American workplace has truly evolved. We know workplace flexibility affects not only how we work and live, but how businesses and the country compete.

The conference centered around the new realities of America’s workforce. Women are now half the nation’s workforce, and mothers are primary or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of the families in America. Two-thirds of mothers with children under the age of six worked outside the home in 2008. Low-income workers, especially immigrants, are much less likely to enjoy benefits such as flexible work hours, paid sick days or vacation days.

According to Netsy Firestein of the Labor Project for Working Families, which partners with unions to advocate for family-friendly workplaces:

Unions help advance real workplace flexibility. Labor unions have been at the forefront of re-envisioning the workplace — the 8-hour work day, the weekend, safety standards, and important family friendly policies such as paid sick days, paid family leave and family health insurance. And most recently in California, unions helped to win the nation's first paid family leave law.

Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, provided the closing remarks for the conference praising gains in recent years on workplace flexibility, but emphasized

America’s workers need more than anything is for the U.S. Department of Labor to set a public policy floor for working families, embracing subsidized child care, paid family leave, sick and vacation time, and the right to flexible scheduling with workers having control over their own lives—both at and away from the job.

In a recent op-ed in the Pasadena Star-News, Solis summed it up:

All of us want to care for our loved ones. And we want to be good at it. We want to do well at work and care for our families, whether that means a child or an aging parent. We want to be a meaningful part of their lives. But not all of us have the flexibility – or a deputy for that matter – to do so. And in an age when many moms are dads too (and vice a versa) I think most will tell you: It's not easy. But it should be easier. Life happens. And whether you run a company or work an assembly line, you should have the flexibility to tend to it.