Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Lobbying in Lowell

Greetings, and a happy Thanksgiving holiday to you, wherever you may be.
Here are some photographs from our visit to the district office of Congresswoman Niki Tsongas on Wednesday, Nov. 14, in Lowell.

Honest to goodness, this is the official sign welcoming you to the office of Niki Tsongas. Her staff, all of two people, moved into the office of former Rep. Martin Meehan only a month ago, and renovations are proceeding apace. We are sure there will be an shiny engraved sign appearing soon!

Here we are in the meeting room, waiting to speak with Anthony Lopez, one of Tsongas' legislative aides. We were preparing to make our case for both the House and Senate bills that would guarantee eight weeks of paid leave for all working parents having a child or adopting one.

Our delegation standing with Anthony Lopez, second from left, at the end of a promising discussion of parental leave reform. We hope Representative Tsongas will endorse H.R. 3158 and encourage her Senate colleagues to support S. 1681. We also hope she will encourage her colleagues in the state legislature to adopt similar measures.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Prophets and The Devil's Advocate

Hello, bloggers! Yesterday your fearless prophets met with a really nice gentleman from Representative Niki Tsongas's office. Neither he nor Ms. Tsongas are the "Devil's Advocate" referenced in the title of the post!

We trekked out of the city to Lowell, where Ms. Tsongas's district office is located. Anthony (not our fellow prophet but the staffperson with whom we met) showed us into the newly furbished conference room. We heaped on the charm and the facts--facts about current legislation at the state and national levels, the information we have linked on the panel here at the blog. We also gave him this link as we spoke about how the U.S. stacks up against other developed nations (as well as some developing nations). He listened patiently, making notes and seeming duly interested in what we had to say as we discussed the fluidity of "family" these days and the needs our families encounter in this country so devoted to "family values." I spoke passionately about the concerns of my friends who recently had children and who are currently expecting. I felt confidant in my conviction. Clearly, the federal government should lead the way in offering paid leave for parents of newborns! There. We had won our case. Who could ignore the facts?!

Then he spoke: "I have to ask the Devil's Advocate question now. How do you think the American public will respond to a bill that offers paid leave for federal employees, when that money will come from taxpayers?" At first, I felt a little deflated. Then it came to me. I explained to him: Sure, some people are going to give a little flack. It's hard to pinch that penny to see someone else get benefits you feel you should have or you feel don't pertain to you. But if the government presents a united front and shows this market-driven country the productivity benefits of offering paid parental leave, they will be likely to follow suit. Starbucks has already learned the benefits of happy employees who have insurance, 401k and stock options. People who feel their families are well cared for are happier, more productive, and more loyal employees. But for me, there is more to it than productivity flow charts. So, I continued. You could put it to the public this way. Who doesn't know a child? Who doesn't have a niece, nephew, grandchild, or friend's child about whom they care? And who doesn't want those children they know to have every fighting chance? Part of giving these children every chance is allowing them to be home with their parents longer in those early developmental stages, when so much learning and growth happens. Children who stay home longer can build strong immune systems, be taught one-on-one by their parents, and can develop more fully before being shuffled into a daycare system to be cared for by others. Daycares are great and essential, but if given the opportunity, parents are more likely to want to be more hands-on, especially during the early stages. Underdeveloped immune systems can lead to more doctor bills and unpaid leave on the part of the parents and possible development setbacks on the part of the children. Who wants that for the children they know and love?

At some point in the discussion, I expressed to staffperson Anthony my own reservations at the beginning of this project. At first, I was just doing it for school. Now, though, I have lots of friends and family who have brought or are bringing children into this world. I want better rights for those I love--parents and children alike. This is no longer an abstract class project for me. This is a definitive stand for social justice. I hope you all will join us in this fight.

Shalom, bloggers!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Our Promotional Video

Our colleague at Boston University School of Theology, Keturah Reeves, has assembled this video, which serves as our platform, our credo if you will, on the issue of parental leave policy. The audience for this video is broad and inclusive. We hope that state and federal lawmakers as well as business leaders, from the small-business to corporate level, take notice. We are grateful to Keturah for producing this movie.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Good News

We are glad to report that initiatives to reform parental leave laws are proceeding at the state and federal levels.

In Massachusetts, a bill to establish paid family and medical leave for all persons employed in the commonwealth is making its way through the legislature. It would require employers to offer 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to their workers. According to the State House News Service, the bill "would require employees to contribute to a 'Strong Families Trust Fund,' which would be used to compensate employees who leave work for medical reasons, to care for a newborn or to attend to an ill family member." Click here for the full story.

The House Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities and the Senate Committee on Labor and Workforce Development held a joint hearing on Oct. 3. Happily, on Nov. 5, the Senate version of the bill was reported favorably by the committee and referred to the Senate Ways and Means committee.

Believe it or not, one of Fox News Channel's talking heads loves this bill! Click here to find out why.

For a dissenting view from the blogosphere, click here. The author, who testified against the bill at the Oct. 3 hearing, is a small business owner and Chamber of Commerce member.

In Congress, the Senate and House have introduced complementary bills.

With Republican Ted Stevens of Alaska co-sponsoring, Democrat Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, still a candidate for president, introduced the Family Leave Insurance Act in the Senate in June. It would reform the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) by requiring employers to provide eight weeks of paid leave under the conditions set by the act. It appears to cover pregnancy and maternity leave regardless of marital status.

For helpful context and sympathetic commentary from the blogosphere on Senator Dodd's bill, click here.

The House bill, sponsored by Republican Tom Davis of Virginia, Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland, and Democrat Carolyn Maloney, of New York, is narrower in scope. It would mandate eight weeks of paid leave, under the terms of FMLA, for all federal employees for birth or adoption. For a more complete story on the bill, click here.

Under the federal guidelines set by the FMLA, men and women working full-time in the United States in workplaces of 50 or more employees can take job-protected unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks. They may use a combination of paid annual leave, paid sick leave, and unpaid leave in the event of childbirth or adoption. According to, federal employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity or paternity leave and up to 13 days of paid sick leave to care for newborn or adopted children.

No debate has been scheduled as of yet for either bill in Congress.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Letter of Prophecy

Hello, bloggers! In preparation for our upcoming meeting, we have created a form letter that will not only be given to our distinguished Congresswoman's staff but will also be forward to some leading businesses, such as Starbucks Coffee Co. and Wal-Mart. This letter will be modified slightly for each audience, but we are hoping to reach as many people as possible to begin this important conversation regarding parental leave reform. Here is our letter:

To Whom It May Concern:

We are a group of students from Boston University School of Theology. We are ministers and scholars writing with a concern for America’s families. The issue of parental leave has not often been discussed in recent years, and yet it is an issue that is of imminent importance. The arrival of a child should be a time of great joy for a family, but all too often it is instead a time of worry and stress. Under America’s current parental leave policy, a new parent may take only twelve weeks of leave or they risk losing their job, and the reality is that new parents sometimes lose their jobs despite this promised minimum leave time. There is no promise of pay during this leave time. America currently has the worst parental leave policy in the developed world. This puts undue strains on both parents and children as parents must return to work in order to make ends meet and are forced to leave their children in the care of strangers. Childcare workers, while generally loving and compassionate, simply cannot provide infants with the kind of one on one care they need to ensure proper development.
Under the current policy, parents use a combination of sick and vacation leave if they wish to receive pay during their leave time. If they do not have enough sick and vacation days, they must survive without pay. This creates an unsafe situation for new infants for, if the child becomes sick once their parent returns to work, the parent may not have any way to take off work to care for them. This is especially problematic for single parents. The policy as it stands now puts undue financial burdens on new parents and this can have nothing but a negative effect on their newborn child. This policy is particularly punitive for impoverished families who literally may not be able to afford losing either parent’s pay for any amount of time.
America’s current parental leave policy is unjust. It creates unsafe environments for newborns and places undue stress on new parents. America’s families are its heart and soul. We know that you care deeply for families and our sincere hope is that you will be willing to work for children and parents to have happier, healthier lives. We know that you care for America’s children and our hope is that you will work to give them every advantage possible, particularly in the earliest days and weeks of their lives. It is for these reasons that we are requesting that America adopt a better, less punitive, and more just parental leave policy: because America’s families and children are counting on it.


“The Second Isaiahs”

Saturday, November 10, 2007

An Appeal to Mrs. Tsongas

We are looking forward to a visit to the district office of Democrat Niki Tsongas, the newly elected member of the House of Representatives from the Fifth Congressional District. We are appealing to her not only to support H.R. 3158, the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act, with her vote, but also to be a leader on issues of parenting and parental leave for her congressional delegation.

We are proud that she will carry on the legacy of her husband, Paul, as well as her predecessors in the district, especially Edith Nourse Rogers. As the first female member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation in over three decades, we believe she is uniquely positioned to make an invaluable contribution to the national discussion on family rights and social responsibilities. We are confident she can make a difference for the most vulnerable among us -- our newborns and their proud but needy parents.

Our appointment is Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 14, in Lowell.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Greetings, Fellow Traveler

Welcome, one and all, to this portal on parental leave issues. It is a blog, a clearinghouse, and forum all at once. We intend for it to be a springboard for social action as well. We hope you will find it informative and persuasive. Look for more updates to come ... very soon!